Thursday, December 31, 2009

Florentines


Have you ever had a Florentine? If not, move these to the top of your "to-make" list. Oh, heck, even if you have had them move them to the top! These are fun, festive, delicious little morsels of butter and sugar and not much else.

I had had Florentines a few times, and never thought much of them. Surprisingly, the ones I've had were from a local bakery that has some of the best cookies I've ever eaten, but the Florentines are rather bland. Oh, they look amazing, but they taste like wax. Never a good thing.

Florentines are so lovely, I really wanted to like them, so I thought I'd make them myself and see if my opinion of them could be altered. It has forever been altered. Part cookie, part candy, these are scrumptious. They are chewy - though ever so slightly crispy around the edges - buttery, not too sweet, caramel-y, lightly orange-flavored, superb.


They are lace cookies, meaning that they spread so thin while baking that all that is left is a thin, hole-y layer of batter that forms something resembling lace. They are quite lovely, and there are many possibilities of how to incorporate chocolate into them. I drizzled - though admittedly my drizzling needs some work - and I don't think it provides enough chocolate to cookie ratio this way. I was planning on spreading the melted chocolate on the backs of the cookies, but they are rather delicate cookies, and started to break apart when I tried this. I was short on time, so I went with the drizzle.

These cookies have a minimal amount of flour in them, and could easily be made gluten-free.

Though this version contains orange zest, I think they would also be wonderful with lemon zest, ginger or espresso powder, among other things.

They are not difficult cookies to make by any means, but you do need to be careful when baking them. There is a very small window where they are perfectly baked and it is easy to miss it.


Florentines
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis


1 cup finely chopped almonds
1 tablespoon unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons orange zest
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon agave nectar

2 oz semisweet chocolate

Combine almonds, flour, zest and salt in medium-sized bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together sugar, butter, cream and agave and stir continually until mixture comes to a boil. Pour over almond mixture and stir to combine. Let cool for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. When dough is cool enough to handle, place 6 tablespoon-sized mounds of dough on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and press them into relatively flat disks. These cookies spread a lot, so give them as much space as you can. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are caramel in color and the centers are tinged with golden but still look a little moist. Cool on baking sheet for about 2 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely. In the meantime, melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Transfer cool cookies to paper towel and blot any butter residue from them. Drizzle melted chocolate over cookies, dip cookies in melted chocolate, spread chocolate on the backs of cookies and make them into sandwiches (or leave them as chocolate-backed single cookies). Go wild!


Monday, December 28, 2009

Peanut Butter Cups



Well, as if it wasn't bad enough that we had a snowstorm about a week ago that knocked out the power from 67,000 homes in the Asheville area (including mine), we woke up to this on Christmas morning. An ice storm! That knocked our power out! Yeesh! Let me tell you, the grand baking plans I had were entirely thwarted...

We were at my mom's house - about 15 minutes from mine. She lives in the woods, and thankfully has a fireplace and a gas stove, so we had heat and could cook, but that was about it. I won't go into the details of how we spent much of our day melting snow so that we could flush the toilet...

Anyway...

We didn't end up having Christmas dinner until yesterday. I made Mexican Wedding Cookies, a Peanut Butter Truffle Tart and World Peace Cookies, so no new posts from those, but I did whip up some Peanut Butter Cups last night! I had to have something to share with you, I've been so absent lately!

I've mentioned before that I've never been a fan of peanut butter, but there are a few things I really do love it in. A good peanut butter cookie is hard to beat, and you certainly can't go wrong with a peanut butter cup. There is really something about the combination of peanut butter and chocolate.

I really mean it when I say I whipped these up. They couldn't be easier to make, even at the last minute. Below is how I made them, but there is certainly a lot of room for adjustment depending on your personal preferences.




Peanut Butter Cups

12 oz best quality semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup peanut butter

small paper or foil candy cups - the ones I used must have held about an ounce, though unfortunately I threw away the packaging without looking... Next time, I would use smaller foil cups, as the paper ones were a tad difficult to pull off of the chocolate. With the size I used, I got 18 candies.

Melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. When completely smooth, spoon just enough into candy cup to cover the bottom, then place about 1/2 teaspoon of peanut butter on top and cover entirely with melted chocolate so that the surface is smooth and flat. Place in fridge to set.





Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mendiants


Oh my, it feels like forever since I've posted anything, though it has only been a couple of days! This has been a crazy last week. First the snowstorm, which severely crippled sales at my store (which have been terrible anyway because of the economy), not to mention knocked out the power at my house for three days, and now here we are just 3 days from Christmas! Thankfully, the sun came out yesterday, and people have started braving the still icy sidewalks and shopping, hallelujah!

In case you missed my last post, I recently hosted a 5-course chocolate meal as part of the December version of Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24. As party favors, I made bags of these mendiants to give to my guests.

Mendiants are wonderful confections, because if done right you get a different and distinct flavor with each bite. There are limitless options for toppings, so you can really get creative. They are such fun treats to make, and surprisingly easy!

Go to it! There's still plenty of time to include these in holiday goodie bags!


Chocolate Mendiants

10 oz best quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
A few tablespoons of your choice of toppings, such as candied citrus peel, crystalized ginger, nuts (toasted or not) dried fruits, cocoa nibs, sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, culinary herbs, the list goes on!*

To temper chocolate:
Place 8 oz of chocolate in heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted, and measuring about 100 degrees. Add remaining 2 oz of chocolate and stir to melt, stirring until it reaches about 90 degrees.

Drop spoonfuls of tempered chocolate on parchment and use the back of spoon to swirl chocolate into a circle. When chocolate has begun to set but is still soft, add toppings. Use 3 - 4 toppings per disk, but don't overdo it. Alice Medrich calls mendiants an ode to simplicity, which is a lovely and perfect description for these heavenly disks.

* Some combinations I made were: nib, dried cherry and cracked pepper; candied orange peel, fig and lavender, candied lemon peel, crystalized ginger and almond; candied orange & lemon, fig and walnut.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate!


This is a very special post about a very special event that I was a participant in this weekend. I was lucky enough to have been chosen to take part in this month's Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 - a food blogging event that takes place every month. Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 is a great concept - 24 food bloggers from around the world are chosen to each host a unique meal on the same date and blog about it on the same date. I had thought it would be fun to take part in it for a while but couldn't think of a meal concept. Then it came to me - chocolate! I can't believe that one took so long to come up with...

I constructed a 5-course meal, each course including chocolate in some form. It was so much fun to plan and make, and of course, wonderful to eat. The event went incredibly well, despite some hurdles I had to cross. Thankfully, I'm pretty good at taking things as they come...

So, as I mentioned, the meal was yesterday. I had planned on hosting it at my mom's house. She lives in a beautiful house in the woods that was originally built as a church in the late 1800's. Then in the early '80's it was deconstructed and rebuilt in it's current location as a house. It is incredible. It has 17 foot ceilings in the living room, a 2-tiered antique chandelier, a 10 foot tall Gothic window, as well as leaded glass windows, floors and wainscoting that are all original to the church. It was the perfect location to hold a meal about the love - worship in my family - for devout chocolate lovers. However, Mother Nature had other plans.

Friday morning, we woke up to several inches of snow which only increased as the day went on. We were unable to get our car out of our driveway (still can't actually) and we lost power Friday night which we still don't have. How am I writing this post, you may ask? Thankfully, we have friends (who attended the meal, by the way) who's dad owns an apartment in downtown Asheville that he keeps for visiting friends to stay in, and it was empty this weekend, so we've been staying there. Actually, it is so nice, I wouldn't mind if we never got our power back at home!

So, with the car in the driveway, we had no way to get to my mom's to have the meal. We went ahead and did it at our house. This was possible because I had done a lot of prepping in the days leading up to the meal, and we have a gas stove that was unaffected by the power outage. Also, we held it at 2:00PM, so we had the benefit of natural light - or at least as much light as we could get on a cloudy, snowy day. This brings me to an apology.

The photos. The photos, the photos, the photos. I had visions of beautiful photos of my beautifully styled beautiful food. That is not what I got. Despite all of my planning and prepping, there was still a lot of work to be done the day of the meal, not to mention keeping my 1 & 3 year olds out from underfoot. I was a harried frantic mess up until I sat down to eat (when everyone else was on the fourth course). I was making ganache while my guests were eating their main course, and the best I could do was snap a few shots just as I was slinging the food on the plates. So, please forgive me for the un-styled, flashy (as in, taken with flash) shots of my food, which was actually quite beautiful. I'm planning on doing a couple of posts as an amendment to this one focusing more deeply on individual menu items that I will be able to photograph properly, so at least I'll have some redemption...

Now, the chocolate meal course by course:

First Course:
Baby Arugula Salad with Grilled Pears, Cocoa Nibs, Sheep's Milk Feta and a Cocoa Balsamico (Pictured above)

I had hoped to have pomegranate seeds in this salad, as well, but couldn't find one. The salad, though very simple was very delicious. I had also hoped to find mache, but the baby arugula worked beautifully. The Cocoa Balsamico was a huge success, and something that I'll be making again.

Cocoa Balsamico
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Place vinegar in small saucepan and cook over very low heat until it becomes a thick, though still pourable syrup. Remove from heat and stir in cocoa powder. Use immediately.


Second Course:
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup Topped with Nib-Infused Cream


This soup (minus the nib cream) is a specialty of mine. I make it for holidays and dinner parties on a regular basis, and it is always a crowd pleaser. The Nib-Infused Cream is an idea that came from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich. She is the Queen of Chocolate, after all! The nibs add a great crunch to the soup, and the slightly bitter cream is a wonderful foil for the sweet squash. Definitely a wonderful and simple way to make a dish extra special. I'll make it again soon, photograph it properly and give you the recipe, I promise.

Third Course:
Mole Enchiladas Filled with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Fingerling Potatoes, Whole Garlic Cloves, Sauteed Lacinato Kale and Monterey Jack Cheese


This was my first time making mole, and I don't think anyone who tasted it will allow it to be my last! It was amazing, heavenly! Just the right amount of spice and heat, great depth of flavor and perfect texture. The recipe makes a lot - a little over a quart - so I need to come up with some ways to use mole over the next week or so. Send your ideas forth! I'm going to photograph the mole and do a proper post on it, but here is the recipe for the enchiladas (which I basically made up as I went along...)

Roasted Vegetable & Sauteed Kale Enchiladas


4 cups of diced potatoes and sweet potatoes, any variety
8-10 cloves of garlic
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch of kale (I prefer lacinato or red russian, but any variety will work. Chard would also be tasty)
olive oil for pan
salt to taste

2 cups grated monterey jack cheese

8 corn tortillas

1 cup mole sauce

Preheat oven to 450. Grease all surfaces of roasting pan. Place all ingredients in pan and toss well, coating all sides of potatoes & sweets. Roast for about 40 minutes, until everything is soft and slightly browned. Check on veggies every 15-20 minutes, turning them over so all sides brown. Remove from oven to cool. Remove stems from kale and chop finely. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in skillet. Add kale and salt. Cook until kale is soft.

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 350. Place about 1/4 cup roasted vegetables down the center of a tortilla, top with thin layer of kale, followed by thin layer. Gently roll tortilla so that sides just overlap, and place seam-side down in large rectangular baking dish. Continue with this process until pan is full. Spoon mole over tops of enchiladas, followed by the remainder of the cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes.


Fourth Course:
Chocolate & Cheese Plate

The three chocolates I chose for this plate were a white chocolate bar with nibs that I really love by chocolatier Askinosie, which I paired with a subtle, creamy manchego; a 65% milk chocolate that went with a local brie; an 80% dark single origin that was lovely with a pungent bleu cheese. I served the plate with two locally-made flatbreads as well as my chocolate lavash. I highly recommend doing this for your next gathering. Everyone loved all of the selections, as well as the experience of eating it.

Fifth Course:
Chocolate Caramel Tart and Cocoa Nib Ice Gelato

A few months ago, we made this beauty for Tuesdays with Dorie. It was probably my favorite TWD recipe to date, so I immediately thought of it when deciding on my dessert for this little fete. Then I thought of a similar tart from Saveur that I had wanted to make. I went with the Saveur version, because it had a chocolate crust, I was curious about the addition of creme fraiche in the caramel recipe, and because it got rave reviews. Unfortunately, the tart was my least favorite part of the meal. It wasn't bad, it just didn't wow me as much as I had wanted it to. There wasn't a high enough chocolate to caramel ratio, and the caramel itself was inferior to Dorie's. Also, the chocolate crust didn't add anything for me. I missed the shortbread-like crust that Dorie uses - the flavor is better, and I think it allows the ganache topping to shine, as then it is the only chocolate in the tart. Don't get me wrong, this one was good. Really, really good. It's just that I know there is something better out there, and will stick with that one from now on. Once again, the moral of the story is always, always, always trust Dorie.

Now the gelato is another story. Wow. I mean wow. This is ice cream that I would eat any time, anywhere, with anything. It is that good. The recipe calls for straining the nibs from the custard base, but really, why? I love nibs. I think they added a huge dimension to this ice cream. Leave in the nibs! The thing that is most amazing about this frozen delight is that it us flavored entirely with the nibs. It is incredible to eat ice cream that is so light in color, yet so deeply chocolate in taste. What I have left of this ice cream is buried in the foot of snow on my deck, but if it survives, I will take a proper photograph of it and devote an entire post to it. It deserves it. Until then, here is a link to the recipe.


I also made Chocolate Mendiants (disks of tempered chocolate topped with dried fruit, candied citrus peel and nuts) which I gave out in little bags as party favors. The mendiants are one of the items that I'll do a separate post on in the coming days. They were beautiful, fun, delicious and easy, and they make great gifts. I didn't get a chance to photograph them before having to escape my cold, dark house, but the post will be coming soon. I promise.

Thanks so much to Foodbuzz for selecting me as one of their December participants! This was such a fun event to be a part of, my mind is churning with ideas to propose for the next one!




Thursday, December 17, 2009

BBA Challenge: French Bread


Now that I'm back in the bread-baking groove, I can't stop! Fresh on the heels of my focaccia, I whipped up a batch of this French Bread. I am so happy to be baking bread again, because I just love it.

Earlier this year, before I started my blog, I had never baked a loaf of bread. All of a sudden, however, I decided it was something I was going to get into. I was a little nervous, the whole thing seemed daunting. I bought a few bread books, but didn't really make anything. Until I joined The Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge.

Since joining, I've made things I never thought would be coming out of my oven; Brioche, English Muffins, Ciabatta, Focaccia, Cinnamon Rolls, the list goes on and on! I am so grateful for this group, especially the Slow & Steady sub-group, because when I've been dragging my heels, inevitably one of the lovely ladies inspires me to forge ahead. I also think I'm very fortunate to have gotten into bread baking through this amazing book, because it is so specific in its instructions that it really gives you the confidence to make anything!

I love making bread, especially kneading by hand. It is amazing to feel the dough transform over the course of a few minutes from something stiff and restricted to something smooth, elastic, relaxed. It is such a gratifying experience to mix the ingredients together, knead and nurture the dough over a period of time - often two days with Peter Reinhart's recipes - form it into loaves and then entrust it to the oven, where it becomes that nourishing, satisfying thing we call bread. How in the world did someone figure out how to make this stuff?!

I have a difficult time describing the taste of bread, but this French Bread is among the best I've ever had. It had such a depth of flavor that I kept thinking there were things in and on it that weren't there - cheese and butter, namely. The crust was very thick and crunchy as French Bread crust should be, the inside tender and creamy.

I ate a lot of it plain, but also made some into superb crostini topped with olive oil, goat cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes, onions and garlic with coriander and sea salt. Oh my goodness was it amazing. It was gobbled up so quickly I didn't get any photos, but I will definitely make it again so that I can share it with you.

The recipe for this bread can be found in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. A must-have book for every home baker.


Even the littlest member of my family loved it!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dried Fruit & Nut Cake


This is the fruitcake that will redeem the name of fruitcake. It is a beautiful mess of dried fruit and nuts held together by some flour and eggs. The small amount of batter forms a delicious sugary coating across the surface of the cake that is simply addictive. This fruitcake is so good. Now those aren't words you hear every day, are they? Read on, my friends, read on.

The recipe comes from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich. I love this book. I have never made anything from it that wasn't fantastic. If you don't have it, it isn't too late to put it on your Christmas wish list! This was one of the first recipes that really jumped out at me when I got the book, though I didn't have a chance to make it until recently. A shame, because I have seriously been missing out!

If you've been wanting a wonderful, flavorful, complex, dynamic, creative, delicious fruitcake recipe, look no further. Here it is.

This recipe is very versatile, in that you can use any combination of dried fruit, plus it is perfect for so many occasions. Certainly great for the holidays, but equally as wonderful as a breakfast treat. Especially if baked in bar form, which I'm planning on trying sometime soon.

It does look a little lop-sided, I know, but don't hold that against it! I didn't do the greatest job of leveling out the batter, but it is so craggy it is rather difficult to do...

I used a combination of dates, apricots, figs and cherries. Next time, the only change I would make fruit-wise would be to use a slightly higher proportion of cherries, because they added a delightful tang to the cake. Everything else was great - the crunch of the fig seeds, the chewy gooeyness of the dates, the soft sweetness of the apricots. Really, this is so good.

The recipe calls for 3/4 cup sugar, which isn't a whole lot under other recipe circumstances, but this has so much dried fruit in it, which is naturally so sweet, I think the sugar could be reduced considerably. Don't cut it out entirely, though, or you won't get that yummy coating.

I used part whole wheat, simply because I ran out of unbleached, but there is so little flour in this, I think you could use just about any kind. I think buckwheat would be fantastic, or kamut, or all whole wheat. I think this cake could very easily be made gluten-free as well.

In addition to being unbelievably, incredibly delicious, this recipe is also ridiculously easy. I made it for brunch last weekend, and threw it together in a matter of minutes after our guests had arrived. Easy, delicious, what more could you ask for? And a fruitcake at that!



Dried Fruit and Nut Cake
adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

1/2 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup palm sugar (though next time I will use more like 1/3 - 1/2 cup)
1 cup dried fruit (I used un-sulphured apricots, cherries and figs) chopped into medium-sized pieces.
2 cups medjool dates, quartered
3 cups walnut halves
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 300. Line a 9" x 5" loaf pan with parchment. Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and palm sugar in large bowl. Add dried fruit and nuts and toss with your hands. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla extract. Pour into large bowl, toss until all of the fruit and nuts appear well-coated. It will not look like there is enough batter to form a cake, but trust me, there is. Pour into prepared loaf pan, and smooth as well as you can. Bake for about 1 hour 15 - 1 hour 20 minutes. If it looks like it is browning too quickly, place a foil tent over it. After removing from oven, let the cake sit in the load pan for about 5 minutes, then, using the edges of the parchment, lift the loaf out and cool on rack for 45 minutes before cutting into it.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TWD: Cafe Volcano Cookies


Meringues are not really my thing. If these cookies weren't so incredibly easy to make, I probably would have skipped them, as these are a coffee-flavored meringue cookie. A few things persuaded me to go forward anyway: as I mentioned, they are incredibly easy - mix chopped nuts, sugar, espresso powder and egg white in pan until just warm, spoon onto baking sheet, bake; they are coffee flavored - I'm pretty much a sucker for coffee-flavored anything; Dorie describes them as higgledy-piggledy. How could I possibly skip something with such a wonderful description?! So, I whipped them up in about 5 minutes + baking time.


They aren't the most attractive cookies - Dorie pretty much hit the nail on the head with "higgledy-piggledy" but what about the taste?

It took 3 cookies for me to figure out whether I liked them or not. Actually, I'm still not entirely sure. I guess the thing is this - I didn't immediately love them, but I didn't necessarily dislike them either. I enjoyed the melt-in-your-mouthiness of them, but they were a little crunchy for my taste. The coffee could have been a bit stronger, as it was it added a bitterness that wasn't necessarily discernible as coffee. I think a little cocoa could have improved things. I found these cookies interesting, but given my lackluster reaction to them, they probably aren't something I would make again. As a side-note, they are gluten-free and they would be easy to flavor in different ways, so they might be something to think about for the holidays if you are avoiding gluten.

I am glad I tried them, because I found the technique fascinating and fun, so thanks to MacDuff of The Lonely Sidecar for choosing this recipe. Visit the TWD blogroll to see how everyone else's cookies turned out.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies



I recently read David Lebovitz's latest book The Sweet Life in Paris. In it, he makes an off-hand remark about using mesquite flour in his chocolate chip cookies. When I read that, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to make them. Though there are many recipes in the book, those cookies are not one of them. I could have done a quick online search and gotten the recipe, but I forgot about them... Until a couple weeks ago, when Nancy emailed me a link to the very cookies! I was so excited to try them out! Mesquite flour is not something I had ever tasted before, though I was eager to.

Once we both had our mesquite flour, we made the cookies together via Twitter along with Wendy. I hadn't gotten to do a bake-a-long for a long time, so it was especially fun!

Mesquite flour is a very fine powder that is tan in color, and to me it smells very similar to carob. It has a natural sweetness, so you can reduce the sugar in recipes you use it in. It also has a number of vitamins and minerals, and it is gluten free. I've heard of mesquite pancakes, breads, etc... Now that I have a big bag of it, I'm sure you'll see more mesquite recipes on here. But, the cookies. The cookies, the cookies, what to say about the cookies.

I didn't really like them.

I wanted to like them. I tried to like them. I just couldn't like them.

It's funny, because by most people's definition I'm a health nut when it comes to food. I'm a life-long vegetarian, I only eat organic food, a typical meal for me is steamed vegetables with quinoa, my favorite food is broccoli, my 3 year old has never had refined sugar, you get the idea. When it comes to desserts, however, that all basically goes out the window. If I'm going to eat something sweet, I want it to be incredible. I don't want to sacrifice the deliciousness of the dessert just to make it a little healthier. While I will substitute whole wheat flour for unbleached on occasion, and use palm sugar in place of cane, I only do that when I feel the outcome will be enhanced by these changes. What I'm getting at is that these were a bit too much of a health-food cookie to me. I'll take the NYT chocolate chip cookies over these any day.

My husband was crazy about them, however, so I'll let you make up your own mind.



Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson


2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup mesquite flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 375. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated. Add the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, each time mixing until just incorporated. Stir in the oats and chocolate. If the dough is too stiff for your mixer at this point, use your hands to combine the ingredients thoroughly. Form dough into balls about 1 1/4" in diameter. Place them about 1 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies have just begun to set, and the tops have browned a bit. Let cookies cool completely on baking sheet. This recipe makes A LOT of dough. You can freeze some, like I did, or you may want to scale the recipe.



Friday, December 11, 2009

Gingersnaps


I have always loved ginger cookies of all varieties - the more ginger the better! Especially this time of year. What better way to warm up than with a spicy cookie and a hot beverage! I don't usually go for crunchy cookies - I tend to prefer those of the chewy variety. As soon as I saw these, however, I just knew I had to make them. I am so glad I did, because though they don't look like much, they are fantastic!

These are gingersnaps that have a great snap to them, but they aren't hard. Just incredibly crispy. You slice them very thin, so they have a wonderful lightness to them. Of course, that does make it very easy to eat 5 in a row without noticing, but hey, that's what New Year's resolutions are for right?

The original recipe called for cinnamon, but I didn't have enough so I used all spice which added a great depth of flavor that I don't think I would have gotten with the cinnamon. I also used more ginger and black pepper than the recipe called for, but they still weren't as spicy as I would have liked them to be. Next time I make them, I'll use 4 teaspoons of ginger and 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, and we'll see if that does the trick.

These are great holiday cookies - who doesn't love a gingersnap?


Gingersnaps
adapted from simplyrecipes.com


8 oz (two sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup molasses
3 cups unbleached white flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons all spice
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Before starting: line a 9x5 loaf pan with plastic wrap so that it covers the entire interior of the pan and hangs over the edges. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter until soft and smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs and beat until fluffy. Add molasses and mix until well combined. Add dry ingredients to mixer in 3 batches, mixing only until just incorporated. Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan, and press in tightly and as evenly as possible. Bring overhanging edges of plastic over dough so it is covered, and freeze until very firm, preferably overnight. When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 350, and cut dough into very thin slices, about 1/8" thick (no more). Place about an inch apart on parchment lined baking sheet, and bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the edges have turned dark brown. Let cool completely on baking sheet.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

BBA Challenge: Focaccia



I'm finally feeling back in the swing of things with the BBA Challenge. I had an English Muffin flop a couple of months ago that put me into a bread baking slump. But after my second - and very successful - attempt, I'm happy to say that I'm back in the bread baking groove.

Actually, I made the focaccia several months ago when I had some leftover poolish that I needed to use up. The last two pictures are of my first batch. With that focaccia, I used all unbleached white flour, and topped the bread with basil oil. It was so long ago I honestly don't remember many fine details of it, but I do remember loving it. We made lots of sandwiches with it and it was gone in about 1 1/2 days.



I didn't have any poolish around this time, so I thought I'd give the non-poolish version a shot. I also wanted to use part whole wheat flour - I used 2 cups whole wheat and 3 cups unbleached white.

Once you've had homemade focaccia, store-bought - even bakery-bought in many cases - is basically inedible. This is delicate and tender and flavorful, as opposed to tough and dry and bland.

I can't say that I have a preference one way or the other between the two versions I made. I loved them both. I will say that the non-poolish version doesn't require a preferment, so you don't have to plan ahead when you decide to make it. It does require an overnight rest in the fridge, however, so you will still have to wait a day before enjoying this delightful yeasted creation.


The recipe for this focaccia can be found in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. If you don't already have this book you should put it on your holiday wish-list, because it is amazing.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps


This is the third and final treat that I included in the package for my December Secret Baker bakee. The other two are here and here. I've seen these cookies all over the place - or cookies that are similar - and have been dying to make them.

These cookies are so much better than I expected them to be. I thought they would be denser, drier. They are more like a perfect fudge-y 3-bite mound of brownie. There are 4 teaspoons of espresso powder in the batter, but even so, the cookies do not have an incredibly pronounced coffee flavor. The coffee really intensifies the chocolate, making the cookies richer and more complex.

The only problem with this recipe is that it only makes 18 cookies! I highly recommend doubling it.


Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps

1/2 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
confectioner's sugar for coating


In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg, beat until well combined. Add melted chocolate and mix until just combined. With mixer on low, slowly add flour mixture, mix until just combined. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment and divide the dough into 18 equal pieces - mine were around .90 ounces each. Shape into balls and roll in confectioner's sugar. Once all the balls are rolled in sugar, roll them all once more - you want there to be a thick layer of sugar. Place dough balls on baking sheet about an inch apart. Bake until cookies have spread and the tops have cracked - 12-14 minutes. Cookies will be soft to the touch. Place baking sheet on wire rack and let them cool completely.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TWD: Spice Sables


This week's TWD pick was sables - a sandy-textured cookie that is a relative of shortbread, though sables contain egg yolks. There are several flavor options in Baking from My Home to Yours, all of which sounded great. Though I want to try all of them, this time around I went with the spice version, which has a combination of cinnamon, ginger and freshly grated nutmeg.

I only made a half recipe, though I kind of wish I'd made more - especially since I included some of these in my secret baker package. I'm pretty sure my bakee isn't a TWD member... These are deceptively delicious cookies. You take one bite and think, "Mmm, these are good cookies." After another bite, you're saying, "Wow! These are fantastic!" After one more bite, you're done for and pretty soon you've eaten 5.

These sables are firmer in texture than shortbread, they have a little more crispiness on the surface. They are gently and perfectly spiced, and the outside of them is coated in a sugar and allspice mixture which adds just a bit of crunch.

I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn't like these cookies. Don't let their simplicity fool you, they are outstanding.

Thanks to Barbara of Bungalow Barbara for picking these fantastic cookies, which will certainly be making frequent appearances in my home from now on. You can find the recipe and all of its variations on her blog. There is a parmesan version that I'm dying to try...


Monday, December 7, 2009

Chewy Coconut-Chocolate Pinwheels


I really have something special for you today. These little cookies are like a coconut macaroon all grown up. This is one of the items I made for my Secret Baker bakee, and it's a good thing that the majority of them are being shipped off, because they are quite wonderful.

These cookies are not only lovely, they are incredibly delicious. The cookie has a distinct buttery flavor, a very chewy texture due to the coconut, and a crispy outer. The center is filled with a sort of a ganache that is made from chopped chocolate and sweetened condensed milk. The only complaint I have about these cookies is that they are a tad too sweet, and I think that could be remedied by making a traditional ganache with heavy cream.

I'll certainly be making these again over the holidays, and you should too!


Chewy Coconut-Chocolate Pinwheels

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream 8 tablespoons of the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until combined. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to mixer and mix until just combined. Stir in coconut. Roll dough out between two sheets of parchment until it measures about 10 1/2" x 15 1/2". Using a sharp knife, trim dough into an even 10" x 15" rectangle. Place dough in fridge for at least 1 hour. In a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water, place the chocolate and remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir occasionally until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the condensed milk. Let cool and thicken for about 5 minutes. Remove dough from fridge and spread chocolate over surface, leaving about 1/4" of dough uncovered along one of the 15" sides. Starting with the other long side, roll dough into a log using bottom piece of parchment to help, and smooth the 1/4 inch you left chocolate-free into the log so that it is a fluid circle with no chocolate leaking out. Wrap the log in parchment and chill overnight. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Slice the log into 1/4" thick pieces. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet about 1" apart. Bake for about 10-14 minutes, until cookies are puffed and light golden brown. Place baking sheet on cooling rack for cookies to cool completely.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

SMS: Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake with Blackberry Glaze



Every time I make a cheesecake, I wonder why I don't do so more often. Then I eat half of it within the first day, and I remember why. I really love cheesecake. If offered a choice of flavor, I would normally have picked the unadulterated plain old cheesecake. However, this version has changed all of that.

It really is divine, this cheesecake. One of my favorite things we've made from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book so far. I mean, what's not to love? Two of my favorite flavors (coffee & chocolate) together in one creamy, decadent creation, complete with a chocolate crust that has a thin layer of melted chocolate on it. I'll say it again: chocolate crust, topped with melted chocolate, filled with chocolate espresso cheesecake. Oh my. And let's not leave out the blackberry glaze that you see on top. While there isn't a lot of it, it adds a wonderful light and tangy element to the dessert that really puts it over the top. Chocolate and blackberry are a match made in heaven.

Changes I made to the recipe are as follows: I made a 1/2 recipe in a 6" spring form - the crust was the perfect amount, but I had extra filling (which I made these with, forgetting that I had already made them, only to remember when I took a bite and recalled that I had eaten all of the cheesecake layer off of the brownie layer, because it wasn't terribly good. Same thing happened this time.); I used whole wheat flour in the crust; I didn't have any hazelnuts (nor am I particularly fond of them) but I had some almond meal, so I used that instead of chopped nuts in the crust. As a result, my crust was probably smoother than intended, and it is actually remarkably similar in texture and taste to my Chocolate No-Roll Crust. For the topping, I cooked down and strained frozen blackberries and apple juice - sorry, I didn't measure them.


Everyone who tasted this dessert flipped out over it. Many thanks to Shandy of Pastry Heaven for this wonderful pick. If you're interested in the recipe - and you should be - head on over to her blog. Also, this will be the last SMS post for the year. We're taking a baking break as a group, and will be back in the swing of things in January. Don't worry, I'll still be baking and posting plenty of other goodies in the mean time.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mexican Hot Chocolate Pretzels


What exactly constitutes a Christmas cookie? Do these count? I mean, they aren't shaped like a tree, or a snowflake, or a stocking, or a star, a Santa, holly or a snowman. They don't have frosting neatly piped in colorful designs, and they aren't incredibly delicate. They don't have nutmeg in them - though they do have cinnamon - or jam inside them. But I think they are special and festive, and shouldn't that be the deciding factor? They are eye-catching in their own way, and certainly intriguing. I think they are a perfect addition to a holiday cookie platter. At least in my house, where in some people's minds, it isn't worth eating if it isn't chocolate. Yes, these will go over very well around here.

I used to work at an amazing restaurant in NYC called La Palapa. (As a side note, the owners of La Palapa just released their first cookbook, definitely something you want to look into!) We made Mexican Hot Chocolate there that was incredible. There is something really wonderful about the flavors of chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla. It is is comforting. It is warming, soothing. Not something I want with my chocolate on a regular basis, just once in a while, for special occasions. These cookies are the perfect vehicle for this tasty combination.

While they are slightly tedious to make - lots of rolling and twisting - they are worth it. They have a strong chocolate flavor, accented with cinnamon and a touch of vanilla. They are firm, but not crunchy - their texture is similar to shortbread. And they are fun to eat!

You could make them look more like savory pretzels by coating them with sanding sugar, or for a combo Dorie Greenspan would surely approve of, top them with sea salt! Any way you do it, these are delicious cookies that are worth the effort, and are sure to impress. Even next to a frosted Santa.


Mexican Hot Chocolate Pretzels
adapted from Not Derby Pie

2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted in a double boiler (or heat-proof bowl set over pan of simmering water)

In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugars and beat for about 2 more minutes. Add egg and vanilla, and mix until combined. Add melted chocolate, and mix until combined. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, and mix on low speed until fully combined, about 2 minutes. Place dough in plastic bag, or wrap in plastic and place in freezer for 45 minutes, or in refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. When you're ready to shape your pretzels, preheat oven to 325. divide the dough into equal pieces - I got 19 pieces at about 40g apiece. Roll each piece into a rope that is about 10"-12" long and about 1/3" thick. Then twist into pretzel shape, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment. If you need step-by-step photos of twisting into pretzels, take a look here. You can place them fairly close on the baking sheet - leave about an inch of space between them - as they don't grow a whole lot in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until they are firm to the touch. Remove baking sheet from oven and place on a rack to cool completely. Repeat until all pretzels are baked.



Friday, December 4, 2009

Buckwheat Scones with Pears & Chocolate


Scones have always been one of my favorite breakfast treats. When I was in high school, there was a local baker that brought them by every morning for us to but for breakfast, and just about every day, I bought one. The only flavor available was currant, but they were wonderful. Tender and creamy. I never did a lot of scone baking until recently, it was always biscuits in my house. I am so glad that that has changed, however, because scones are so fantastic. It is also the perfect thing to make in a large quantity then freeze, baking them as I need them.

I had some pears that needed to be used, and hadn't made scones for a while, so I started looking for a pear scone recipe and found this one at My Recession Kitchen. The thing that was most intriguing to me about these scones was the method for incorporating the add-ins - instead of incorporating them directly into the dough, the dough is rolled out, then sprinkled with the pears and chocolate, then rolled up a la cinnamon roll, then cut into slices. Genius! No fruit leaking juices into the dough creating extra moisture, no need to work fast to keep frozen fruit from thawing, no messy bleeding color from other fruits you could use, like strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, etc...

The technique worked perfectly, and these were fabulous scones. There is a lot of room to play around here, the filling possibilities are endless. I made some with chocolate and some without (for my son). I preferred the ones with chocolate. You wouldn't think that would be surprising, given my deep love for it, but I don't usually like it in breakfast treats. Of course, making them chocolate-free also makes them cane sugar-free (if you use palm sugar, as I did).


Buckwheat Scones with Pears & Chocolate


1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup palm sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces and frozen
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 pear peeled and chopped into small chunks
2 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped into bigger-than-chip-size pieces

Preheat oven to 425. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flours, palm sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Drop butter pieces in, and working with a pastry blender, cut it in until the butter is well-distributed and there are pieces of varying sizes throughout the flour-mixture. Add buttermilk slowly, tossing mixture with pastry blender until all dry ingredients have been moistened. When a dough has formed, turn it out onto a well-floured board, and knead 8 times. Roll dough out into a 12" x 12" square. Fold into thirds, like a business letter, then fold into thirds again, forming a thick square. Wrap dough in plastic and place in freezer for 5 minutes. Remove dough from freezer and roll out into 12" x 12" square again. Sprinkle pear and chocolate chunks over surface of dough. Roll dough into a log. Cut log into 4 equal pieces, then cut each piece diagonally into a wedge. Place wedges on buttered baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Or freeze wedges, and bake them without thawing first, adding a minute or two to the baking time.

* If you need extra instruction on forming the scones, there are great step-by-step photos in the My Recession Kitchen post that is linked above

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spicy Ginger Cookies


I keep seeing this 12 days of cookies thing on people's blogs, and wishing I was in on it! I love cookies! Well, I didn't post a cookie yesterday, but I have one for you today. A delicious, spicy, gingery, soft, chewy, wonderful-for-the-holidays cookie.

It was supposed to be a triple-ginger cookie, but after getting half-way through the dough, I realized I was out of fresh ginger. So, I changed my game-plan, added extra powdered ginger and some fresh ground pepper, and made these little beauties. They have a great ginger/pepper kick, and a subtle molasses flavor. They are quite addictive. While I don't love them quite as much as the Chewy Molasses Spice cookies from a week or so ago, I do love them. I will be making them again.

These cookies are firm on the outside and soft on the inside, with little chewy surprises studded throughout in the form of crystalized ginger. They are sturdy cookies, and are a perfect candidate for shipping. They are also great for a holiday spread if you choose to keep them for yourself. Which you may once you taste them.

If you like ginger, these are the cookies for you.


Spicy Ginger Cookies

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, beaten
4 oz (about 2/3 cup) crystalized ginger, then minced


Preheat oven to 350. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flours, ground ginger, pepper, salt and baking soda. In a small saucepan, melt butter. When it has cooled a bit, add in molasses and sugar, and stir to combine. With mixer on low, pour in butter mixture. Add egg and mix just until flour disappears. Stir in crystalized ginger. Form dough into balls about 1 1/4" in diameter. Roll them in sugar if you wish. Place balls a couple inches apart on baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake 15-19 minutes, or until cookies have cracked and browned slightly. The cracks will still look wet, that's okay. Place baking sheet on rack to cool completely.

* The original recipe calls for the zest of two lemons, which I think would be fabulous in these, though I didn't have any lemons when I made them. Next time!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Peanut Butter Truffle Tart



It's strange how tastes evolve over time, isn't it? I've mentioned this before, but I used to loathe chocolate. I'm actually cracking up as I type that, so comical is the concept to me now... Well, another thing I couldn't stand was peanut butter. Actually, pizza too. I know, what kind of child was I?! To give you a hint, my favorite food was (and still is, actually) broccoli. Steamed. With olive oil and salt. Anyway, we're not talking about broccoli here, we're talking about a tart. A tart that contains two ingredients I would never have eaten 15 years ago, and that would have been a shame, because it is divine.

For his birthday (which was yesterday), my favorite uncle requested a chocolate-peanut butter tart. I knew I wanted it to be rich, and that chocolate needed to be the dominant flavor. One of my all-time favorite desserts is a truffle tart - basically ganache in a cookie crust - so I decided to do a riff on that concept.

For the crust, I wanted something similar to a cookie crust in texture, but not as sweet, so I came up with this one. It was perfect.

For the filling, I made a basic ganache with semisweet chocolate and poured it over a layer of thinned peanut butter that was spread on the crust.

The dessert was a huge hit. Many of my family members put it in their top 5 desserts I've made.

I should mention that my tart used to have a beautiful, smooth, shiny surface. We had my uncle's birthday lunch at his favorite restaurant, and I took the tart there for everyone to enjoy after our meal. After everyone had had a slice (or two) and the leftovers were packed up to go home with people, there was one perfect slice left that I was saving to photograph. As we were walking in the house, my husband dropped the tart pan (containing my one perfect slice) on the floor. It was smooshed. It was dented. The crust was cracked. It was no longer smooth and shiny. It was a mess. I salvaged it as best I could, and hacked up the top of it, trying to mask the damage. It certainly looks better in the photos than it did immediately after its accident, but it was a lot prettier and more sophisticated before it...


Peanut Butter Truffle Tart


Whole Wheat Chocolate No-Roll Crust

3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon unbleached white flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter cut into small pieces and frozen
4 tablespoons ghee, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons cold heavy cream

In a medium sized bowl, combine flours, cocoa powder, salt, sugar and baking powder. Set aside. Add cream cheese and butter and using a pastry blender, cut them in until well incorporated and there are butter bits of various sizes, though none terribly large. Combine heavy cream and ghee and add a little at a time to the flour mixture, tossing with your fingers as you add it. When all of the liquid has been added, use your hands to squeeze all of the ingredients to form a dough. It is okay if it is crumbly, though you want to make sure all of the dry ingredients have been moistened. Dump dough into well-buttered 9" tart pan with a removable bottom (or a 9" pie pan), and press in evenly. Place crust in freezer for at least 30 minutes, and preheat oven to 375. To blind bake, press a piece of aluminum foil over the crust and bake covered for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15, or until crust feels slightly firm to the touch. Let crust cool completely before filling.


Filling

1/3 cup peanut butter
3+ tablespoons heavy cream


8 ounces best quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine peanut butter with cream 1 tablespoon at a time, until peanut butter is still thick, but easily spreadable. The thicker your peanut butter is to begin with, the more cream you'll need. I use fresh ground organic peanut butter that I grind at the health food store, so it is rather thick. When peanut butter is the appropriate consistency, spread it across the bottom of your tart crust.

Place chopped chocolate in heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a boil, then pour over chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is smooth. Stir in butter. Pour over peanut butter layer, and smooth with a spatula. Place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour to set the ganache. Remove from fridge at least 30 minutes before serving to bring to room temperature.






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