Friday, November 30, 2007

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Scones

First off, thank you to all the lovely people that have been commenting on my posts! I haven't had a chance to visit all of your blogs yet since finals are starting to suck away more of my time, but I will definitely be visiting them. Now on to the food! I came across these peanut butter chocolate chip scones on Baking Bites and was immediately intrigued. Many months ago my friend mentioned a peanut butter bagel, and ever since then I've been dreaming of peanut butter bread-y things, so I knew I had to make these.

They're incredibly easy to make and turned out just perfectly. Crispy outsides, soft insides, a cross between a scone and a biscuit. The scones aren't as peanut butter-y as a cookie would be but the taste and smell are definitely there. And who doesn't love chocolate chips in baked goods? The dough is made in a food processor (how much easier can it be than that?) and uses milk instead of cream so I can feel slightly good about eating them. And some of the all purpose flour can easily be replaced with whole wheat flour, without changing the texture.

The recipe is written to make 16 mini scones, which I didn't realize at first. If I had then I might have just cut them into bigger pieces but I'm glad that I didn't. Making them mini means more crispy edges, which I love, and a perfect little size treat. And even better, the edges on the scones stay crispy until the second day (whereas usually I find scones will become completely soft the next day).

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Scones
slightly modified from Baking Bites

Makes 16 scones.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp paking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
10 tbsp butter, cold and cut into 10 pieces
4 tbsp natural peanut butter
1 1/8 cup milk (1 c + 2 tbsp)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Pulse to combine. Add butter and peanut butter and pulse a few times, until mixture resembles very large, coarse crumbs. Add mini chocolate chips.

Combine milk and vanilla extract. With the motor of the food processor running, pour in milk. Stop when the dough starts to come together into a ball. Try not to run the food processor any more than necessary.

Divide dough into three or four pieces and pat each piece into a circle on a lightly floured surface. Cut each circle of dough into 4 or 5 pieces, to make 16 triangular scones. Place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 16-20 minutes at 400F, until light golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container if not eating right away.
The scones are best within two days of baking.

Notes: Make sure not to add too much milk otherwise the dough will be too wet. When mixing the dough in the food processor, stop it periodically to make sure that everything is mixing properly (I found that the dough was gooey on the bottom and crumbly on top if I didn't stick a spatula in there and mix things up).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Daring Baker's Challenge - Potato Bread

My second Daring Bakers' challenge! And I don't know that I'll ever make bread again. Well I'm sure one day I'll feel ready to give it another shot, but not for a long while. Anyway, I was a bit disappointed to find out that this month's challenge was savory as I really love making sweet things. But it was also a really great challenge for me because it was a real challenge. It pushed me to make something that I love but have never tried making (potato bread specifically but I've always wanted to try making bread).

I made one large loaf and 8 rolls, a few with cheese. I forgot to put the cheese on the rolls before putting them in the oven so had to grab them back out. Then regretted baking the rolls on my Silpat as I didn't want to clean melted cheese off it. I also forgot to slash my loaf before putting it in the oven so I took it out after a few minutes and did that - unsure at the time if I had messed it up as the loaf seemed to already be developing a bit of a crust. The slashed part turned out fine though, and I love how it looked.

I must've been doing something wrong because I was kneading the dough for a good 20 minutes at least. My mom and brother said that seemed like a long time, but it said to knead for 10 minutes, then add the flour 1/4 cup at a time, which means more kneading. The dough was so sticky for most of that first 10 minutes and I really extremely hated that. Is there anything I can do to avoid that? How can you even knead the dough when it's constantly sticking to your hands? Keep flouring up your hands? I ended up using about 6 1/2 cups of flour (the minimum amount) because I was scared of using too much (since it said beginners always use too much flour). And holy crap my forearms got so insanely sore from kneading for so long. I have never had such sore forearms. I must be doing it all wrong (very possible). But I'm sure it didn't help that I was kneading on a flimsy plastic cutting board that kept sliding around.

I must admit that once I smelled the potato bread/rolls baking, and saw them brown it made me really happy and excited. Not excited enough to be making bread again anytime soon though. As for how it tasted - for me, just okay. Apparently my niece really liked it though. I cooked the buns too long and they were pretty chewy unless microwaved. The loaf was soft in the middle, but didn't taste like anything special. To me this bread tasted just like regular white bread. And not very good white bread at that. I didn't taste or notice that the potato had been added (though that could be because I misread the recipe to mean only use 8 ounces of potato total, or maybe that was what I was supposed to do). I don't fault the recipe for how the bread turned out though. I'm sure many of the other Daring Bakers had beautiful delicious loaves and variations that I will be coveting.

Overall, I guess it was a successful enough first bread making experience. It was edible and not rock hard, though when I took the loaf out of the pan to cool it felt like it could be used as a weapon since the exterior was hard and it was so heavy. Throughout the bread making experience I kept thinking to myself, it's okay if it doesn't turn out, it doesn't have to, I'm challenging myself. That helped to make the pressure off my perfectionist self. I am glad that I participated in this challenge, despite all my whining! And I can't wait to find out what the next challenge is.

Check out all the other yummy potato breads made by other Daring Bakers. The recipe is on Tanna's site My Kitchen In Half Cups. Tanna did some amazing things with this bread that I can only aspire to be able to do with bread one day.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

(Perfect) Chocolate Cinnamon Cake

I wish I had better pictures that fully showcased how insanely delicious this cake was. It's extremely chocolatey, and while it's made with cocoa powder (which is the reason I think I don't always like chocolate cakes) it tastes like there's real melted chocolate in the batter. The cake is dense, moist and soft - in other words, perfect.

The recipe actually comes from Starbucks' website, but I found it through Baking Bites. Starbucks has only given out a few recipes over the years on their site so I was really excited to try this one. While the recipe is for cinnamon chocolate loaf, you can definitely omit the cinnamon and replace it with something else, or with nothing and just have a yummy chocolate cake! I made it with cinnamon this time but I don't think I would again just because cinnamon and chocolate is not my favourite combination. My only problem with this cake is the sugar crust on top. As you can see from my pictures, there is way too much sugar on top so most of it ends up falling off. Some of the crust forms into hard little pieces/strips. Maybe a light sprinkling of sugar, or icing! Not that this cake even needs icing. (I keep calling it cake but for some reason the original recipe calls it "bread"?)

Chocolate Cinnamon Bread (Cake)
Adapted from Starbucks & Marcus Samuelsson

Chocolate Batter
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cocoa-Spice Sugar Crust
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
pinch ground cloves
pinch ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans and line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.

Make the chocolate batter: In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment on medium speed, until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating until each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next and scraping down the sides of the bowl several times.

Meanwhile in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, water and vanilla. With mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture to butter, beginning and ending with the flour and beating just until blended. Divide the batter between the two pans, shake the pans to even the tops and set aside.

Make the cocoa-spice sugar crust: In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, ginger and cloves. Sprinkle the surfaces of both batters with the cocoa sugar mixture, dividing evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely, run a thin knife around the sides to release the breads and remove from pans.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cookie Love (I've Discovered the Neiman Marcus Recipe)

A couple of random things first. One is have you heard about the new vegan baking book My Sweet Vegan by the lovely Hannah? I haven't had a chance to look through it yet but I'm sure it's great - just look at her site! And two, I need to learn the lesson of being careful how much citrus I add to things. I made orange carrot soup a month or more ago which turned out tasting like orange soup (which I do not recommend). I forgot that I halved the recipe, and to measure the orange juice before adding it to the soup. It was pretty inedible. Then a couple of nights ago I made the lemon caper sauce I had previously made to go over tofu, but I put it with whole wheat spaghettini. I doubled the recipe and discovered that no amount of white wine or vegetable stock (okay maybe massive amounts) was going to tame the lemon flavour. Hopefully in the future I will be more careful with citrus fruits!

Moving on, I found possibly the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe. I'm not sure I can commit to that statement yet but they're as close as I've found so far. They're the perfect texture (though of course that statement is relative because we all like different kinds of cookies), or rather the texture I've been searching for in a chocolate chip cookie recipe. The texture is the same throughout - just a nice, soft, chewy but not buttery and flat cookie. A cookie that holds its shape well and is a little bit crispy on the outside. Unfortunately they seem to go dry within a few days though. I'm not sure that I love the taste of the dough on its own (I think the Magnolia Bakery's or Didi Emmons' chocolate chip cookie doughs taste delicious), but I didn't add the espresso powder so I should try that next time. I'll also try adding extra vanilla (after all I have two 1 liter bottles to use up).

I'm really looking forward to trying these cookies with white chocolate peppermint bark, as discovered by Heidi. I've also tried making them with M&Ms, yum yum.

Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Neiman Marcus

Makes 2 dozen

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Cream the butter and sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.

2. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.

3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and chocolate chips.

4. Drop cookie dough (about 2 tbsp each) onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2 inch circle. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispier cookie.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Spinach Walnut Pesto with Smoked Tofu & Whole Wheat Rotini

I love trying out different variations of pesto and since fresh basil is only available for a limited time every year (which makes me very sad), I try to find decent substitutions. This pesto surprised me with how well it turned out. The bit of freeze dried basil that I added gave the pesto enough basil taste for a person to not be able to tell that it wasn't made with basil. I was happy that it tasted like regular pesto even thought it's made with spinach instead of basil, walnuts instead of pine nuts, and no Parmesan cheese. I added some ground flax seeds (I was adding them to everything for a while) and smoked tofu (which was a bit overpowering when eating the leftovers). The raw garlic made the pesto a bit spicy, so next time I'd either use half as much or maybe roast it. Overall a great discovery and a recipe I will make again. And full of healthy spinach!

Oh and if you have yet to try smoked tofu, you must make every effort to find it! The taste and texture are similar to smoked gouda, at least to me. My mom who isn't a big fan of tofu really likes it, so it could be a good way to get non-tofu lovers to eat tofu and/or as a "gateway" tofu product.

Spinach Walnut Pesto with Smoked Tofu & Whole Wheat Rotini
modified from Quick-Fix Vegetarian

makes about 1 1/2 cups, serves 2-3 when with pasta

3 cups fresh spinach
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup firmly packed fresh parsley leaves
1/3 cup walnut pieces
1 tbsp freeze dried basil
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil

1 block of smoked tofu (about 8 oz)

Cook your favourite whole wheat pasta (I'm sorry I can't remember how much I cooked, but if you have leftover you can make pasta salad?).

Meanwhile, steam the spinach over boiling water for 1 minute, or wilt it in a covered bowl in the microwave for about 3 minutes. Mince the garlic with the salt in a food processor. Squeeze any moisture from the spinach and add to the food processor along with the parsley, basil, flax seeds and walnuts. Puree until smooth. Add the olive oil gradually and process to a smooth paste.

Cut up smoked tofu into squares or small strips. In the pot that you cooked the pasta in, add the pesto and the tofu. Heat over low until tofu is hot.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

I don't have a lot of time to do food blog related things (updating my own, making food to post about, and reading other people's blogs) as school is becoming even more time consuming! But I'm really trying to take some time here and there to update and read blogs. Actually if I'm not in a great mood, reading food blogs always immediately makes me feel better. So thank you everybody for your wonderful blogs - I'm just sorry I don't have more time to read them all and not miss entries.

Anyway, this is just a short post about the first thing I baked from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home To Yours (the infamous cookbook that every food blogger seems to really love so of course I had to go buy it). I bought poppy seeds a while ago but never got around to doing anything with them so when I came across her recipe for lemon poppyseed muffins I knew that was what I should make. And these muffins did not disappoint.

For a while I was going through a healthy muffin baking phase, but of course I will always love the non-healthy more cake like muffins (which I was previously under the delusion that they were good for me since you know, how can a muffin be bad for you?) Dorie's muffins were so delicious. The base has sour cream in it, which makes for such a nice dense cake (I mean muffin), my favourite kind. I will be using this recipe again and again, trying out variations (speaking of which, I love how in Dorie's cookbook she often suggests variations on every recipe.) The first variation I want to try (which definitely cannot be mistaken for a healthy muffin unfortunately) is white chocolate earl grey.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Adapted from Baking From My Home To Yours (Dorie Greenspan)

2/3 cup sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 400F. Prepare 12 molds in a muffin pan with butter or liners.

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of lemon strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, thoroughly whisk the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and melted butter together. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. A few lumps are okay, don't overmix. Stir in the poppy seeds. Divide the batter evenly among the muffins cups.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.