Monday, December 31, 2007

Strawberry Shortbread Cookie Bark

Alright I'm finally starting the Christmas cookie posts! Yes unfortunately they're a bit late but delicious cookies are always wanted right?

These cookies were made specifically for my boyfriend. I, for some reason, have been anti-jam in or on things (except peanut butter & jam sandwiches) for quite a while. Jam on cookies or in baked goods was an especially atrocious act. Thumbprint cookies were the epitome of baked goods I did not want to eat or make. Last year I made thumbprint cookies with my friend but we didn't put any jam. But I thought they'd be something my boyfriend would really enjoy so I told him I'd make them for him this Christmas. (This story ends with me accepting jam in and on baked goods and enjoying the jam on this cookie.)

I used the same recipe that I used the first time from a Martha Stewart cookie magazine, omitting the nuts. But for some reason, this time the dough was really crumbly. There was no way I'd be able to roll it into a ball and not have it fall apart when I made a thumbprint in it. I have no idea what went wrong since they were so easy to make the last time. I thought I might have measured the flour with the wrong measuring cup but I don't think I did. Anyway, I decided to make it easy on myself and just press the dough into a pan and bake it, then spread it with strawberry jam and make a mess of white chocolate on top of that. The white chocolate didn't drizzle as I'd wanted it to (I added a bit of butter) but ah well.

It actually turned out quite tasty! And I was happy that I was able do something creative about my mistake. My mom was really addicted to it and told me I wasn't allowed to give any of it away. I was really happy with how the cookie turned out. Kind of shortbread-y. And I even liked the jam on it. I initially tried to cut the giant cookie into pieces but realized that wasn't going to work. My boyfriend then came up with the name cookie bark for it, so we broke it into pieces and that was that.

I really want to try making jam thumbprint cookies again, hopefully successfuly! I've also seen a pistachio thumbprint recipe that has white chocolate ganache instead of jam that I want to make (The Good Cookie) and chocolate strawberry thumbprints. Try making these thumbprint cookies, either the original way or as a bar (much easier but not as cute)!

Thumbprint Cookies
adpated from Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies 2005

Note: This dough has to be refrigerated for 2 hours.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, separated, each part lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup toasted skinned hazelnuts, ground*
strawberry (or whatever kind you like) jam, for filling

Preheat the oven to 325F. Put butter and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment: mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolk and vanilla, and mix well. Reduce speed to low. Add flour and salt, and mix until just combined. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours.

Stir together toasted hazelnuts and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1 inch balls: dip balls in egg white, then in hazelnut-sugar mixture. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press down center of each ball with your thumb. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven: press down centers again with the end fo a wooden spoon. Return to oven. bake cookies until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes mroe. Let cool slightly on sheets on wire racks. Fill each center with jam. Cookeis can be stored in a single layer in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days.

*You could easily use any nut you like here I think. Grind the hazelnuts with the 2 tablespoons of sugar to avoid the hazelnut turning into a paste/hazelnut butter. Or just finely chop the nuts.

To make cookie bark: Omit the hazelnuts and 2 tablespoons sugar. Press the dough into a parchment paper lined 9x13 dish. Bake for about 15-18 minutes or until firm enough. (Sorry I can't remember exactly how long I baked it for and I think I did it for too long.) Once cool, spread a thin layer of jam over the entire cookie. If you want, drizzle chocolate on top as well, then break into pieces.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Andes Chocolate Mint Cookies

I've noticed that all of my posts recently have been about baked goods. Must be because when I'm in school I don't want to take the time to follow a recipe or think too much about what I eat for dinner. But there's always time for baking! Anyway, last summer I saw these Andes chocolate mint cookies on Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. I was dying to make them but where could I find Andes mints?! I knew I'd seen them before but no idea where I could find them. It turns out they're only available around Christmas. Now I'm stocked up with Andes mints for whenever I want to make these again.

Everybody really loved these cookies. They're brownie-like, and even though the mint part only comes from the Andes chocolate on top, it makes the cookie very minty. I thought the cookie could have been more chocolate-y but this recipe is quite delicious as it is. And I was happy to find out that these cookies freeze really well.

Andes Chocolate Mint Cookies
Adapted from Recipezaar

Makes 50-60 small-ish cookies, or 30-40 large-ish cookies.

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
Andes mint candies, broken in half (about 1 package)

Heat oven to 350°F.

Over low heat, combine butter, sugar and water. Heat until melted and add chocolate chips until partly melted. Remove from heat and stir. Pour into large mixing bowl. Let stand 10 minutes to cool slightly.

Beat in eggs one at a time on high speed. Reduce mixer to low speed and add flour, salt and baking soda. Beat until well-blended. Chill 1-2 hours (dough may be almost liquid before chilling but hardens and is easy to shape after chilling).

Roll into balls, place two inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes. Place an Andes Mint half on top. Allow to melt slightly and spread with a spoon.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chocolate Pots de Crème

Ever since I started my food blog here, and perhaps before, I've wanted to take part in the blog event Sugar High Fridays. This month it's being hosted by 1x umrühren bitte with a pudding theme. It's taken about 6 months for me to actually participate! Either because I miss the submission deadline, or didn't know what to make for the theme. Not this time - I planned ahead. And with the theme of pudding it was made pretty easy for me. Plus I had an excuse to pick up these 2 cute ramekins that I saw when I was shopping for ingredients.

I was thinking of making butterscotch pudding or caramel pots de crème, but then decided on chocolate pots de crème from the ever amazing Baking From My Home To Yours. I've never had or made pots de crème and was very intrigued. They're basically a baked custard pudding thing, and basically delicious. Extremely delicious.

The texture was smooth and creamy. I though it was the perfect sweetness, with a real but mellow chocolate flavour. My boyfriend thought it should have been sweeter though. A bit of a crust formed on the top, not hard at all but more ganache-like. I was pleasantly surprised at how good they tasted using Baker's chocolate. I tried them both warm and cold, and they're good both ways but I prefer them warm. I'll definitely be making these again.

The one thing I'm wondering about though is how Dorie suggests after putting the ramekins in to a water bath, covering the entire thing with plastic wrap. I did this, but by the end the plastic wrap had shrunk away, leaving the ramekins mostly uncovered. Hopefully it didn't melt and fall into the pots de crème. Anyway, does anyone know the story behind this? Did I do something wrong with the plastic wrap? Do I really need it? Also, I ended up cooking one not in a water bath and while it tasted good still, I think the egg cooked a bit on the bottom.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and all that! :)

Chocolate Pots de Crème
Adapted from Baking From My Home To Yours (Dorie Greenspan)

Makes 8 servings

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 large egg
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 300F. Line a large roasting pan with a double thickness of paper towels, then put eight 4-ounce (1/2 cup) custard cups or ramekins in the pan. Boil some water.

Put the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to a boil. When the cream is just at a boil, pour it over the chocolate and wait for a minute. Using a rubber spatula and starting in the center of the bowl, gently stir the cream and chocolate until the ganache is smooth; set aside.

Stir the remaining 1 cup cream and the milk together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large glass measuring cup or bowl, whisk the egg, yolks, sugar and salt together until pale and slightly thickened. Still whisking, drizzle in a little of the hot liquid - this will temper, or warm, the eggs so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remaining liquid. Finally, slowly whisk the egg mixture into the ganache, stirring gently to incorporate.

With a spoon, skim the foam off the top of the custard, then pour the custard into the cups. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups.

Bake the custards for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the tops darken and the custards jiggle a little only in the center when tapped or lightly shaken.

Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Allow the custards to rest in their warm bath for 10 minutes, then peel off the plastic wrap and transfer the cups from the water to the cooling rack. Refrigerate when they reach room temperature. When the pots de creme and cool, cover them tightly with plastic wrap or their little lids.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yule Log Daring Bakers' Challenge

The Daring Bakers' challenge this month was yule log - a genoise cake rolled, filled and iced with coffee buttercream and decorated with meringue or marzipan mushrooms.I wasn't sure if I was going to participate in this month's challenge, due to my finals recently ending and then recovering from a swollen foot. Last night I decided that I wouldn't do the challenge as I only had 2 days left, no idea what I would do with this yule log, was scared of making the meringue mushrooms, was scared of the buttercream going very wrong (as many people seem to have had this happen and some posted frightening photos!), and don't like buttercream. However, last night I was reading through some food blogs and admiring the yule logs. I pined (haha) for a yule log! I had to make it.

I took the butter out of the fridge last night, woke up early this morning and started baking. And let me tell you, I am so incredibly astoundingly happy that I made the yule log! Everything went really smoothly (aside from forgetting to save meringue to glue the mushroom tops and stems together, but I used buttercream icing and it was okay). I love working with eggs, as this recipe for yule log has you do for the meringue, icing and genoise cake. It was amazing to see how the genoise batter thickened and fluffed up, changing to a lighter colour.

The thing I was the most happy about (and when I say happy I mean can't stop talking about it ecstatic) was the coffee buttercream! Who knew how delicious this would be?? I'm kind of picky about the type of icing that I like on cakes, and buttercream is one that I've always despised. To me, it tastes like they whipped up some butter and added a bit of sugar. Whereas this buttercream icing is pure magic. And the coffee flavour! Wow. This coffee flavoured icing is exactly the coffee flavour I've been craving ever since having a coffee cake over a year ago. I know I'll be using the buttercream icing recipe repeatedly and sharing it with friends! The other thing I was really happy about in regards to the icing was how well it came together. I was so scared it would separate and curdle or whatever bad things can happen, but it came together so perfectly.

And then there were the meringue mushrooms. So much fun to make! I recently bought an icing bag and a couple of tips, but haven't used them yet. So this was a great opportunity to try them out. I loved piping the mushroom caps and stems. And couldn't stop eating them when they came out of the oven. The one thing I wonder though is why does the recipe ask you to make 48 mushrooms? Who's going to put 48 mushrooms on their yule log? Anyway not a big complaint as the little pieces of meringue are delicious. And the mushrooms are so incredibly adorable.

I've never made a genoise cake before. Like with my first Daring Bakers' challenge where we had to make a chiffon cake, I didn't really know what I was doing when it came to the cake making part. I have no idea if it turned out the way it was supposed to. It tasted okay but not anything special, and was a bit sticky. But I do know to listen to the directions when it says to butter the parchment paper before pouring the batter in. I often ignore that step in recipes because 99% of the time you don't seem to need it, and it just adds extra butter. Anyway, I let it cool for 45 minutes or so, then rolled it (as several other people suggested to make it easier to roll later on and minimize the risk of the cake breaking). Unfortunately, later on when I put the icing on the inside of the cake, and then rolled it up again (this time taking it off of the parchment paper it baked on), the cake started to rip off of that. Ah well, the wonderous buttercream icing fixes all!

As for how it's decorated. Well I'm not exactly the most skilled cake (or anything) decorator. I'd rather just slap the icing on and start devouring the cake. Many of you added so many cute touches to the yule log, using fruit rollups for greenery and other things. I just kept it simple and stuck the mushrooms on there.

Thanks Ivonne & Lis for choosing this challenge! And thanks to all the Daring Bakers that posted on the blog with their successes, failures and tips for the different parts of this cake. Check out the other Daring Bakers' beautiful yule logs, and go to Ivonne's post for the recipe.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eggnog Bars

More than a year ago, I took 125 Cookies by Elinor Klivans out of the library and fell in love with it. I had to have it! It was full of so many different kinds of cookie recipes with a little story before each one, general tips for packaging and sending cookies, and every recipe has some general tips including freezing and doubling guidelines. I think it's not a very popular cookbook as didn't have it in stock at the time, and when I just checked now didn't either. (I ordered mine through the "used & new" link on the Amazon page). You'd probably recognize Elinor Klivans' other cookbooks, Big Fat Cookies and Cupcakes! And oh my I just discovered another cookbook I want while looking her up on Amazon, The Essential Chocolate Chip Cookie Cookbook.

Anyway, even though I've had this cookbook for a while, I've yet to make anything from it. I came across the eggnog bar recipe and thought it would be a perfect addition to our Christmas goodies. It's actually more of an eggnog cheesecake bar, but is delicious whatever you call it! It has no eggnog in it, but does have rum, nutmeg and cinnamon. The crust to eggnog cheesecake ratio is about 50/50 which I love, as I am a real crust lover. As for how it tastes, yes it is delicious but it's not super eggnog-y. Next time I'd add more spices, and make sure that I use dark rum (I used light rum). Maybe even add extra rum. The recipe also suggests that it makes 12 servings, but I cut it into about 30 little squares, which are just big enough to nibble on while also being able to eat other treats!

Eggnog Bars
slightly adapted from 125 Cookies (Elinor Klivans)

Nutmeg Graham Cracker Crust
2 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
10-12 tablespoons (1.25-1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, melted*

Eggnog Filling
12 ounces cream cheese, softened 3 to 4 hours at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Make the crumb crust:
Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan with parchment paper, letting the parchment paper extend over the ends of the pan.

Put the graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl and mix together. Add the melted butter and stir until the crumbs are evenly moistened with the butter. Transfer the crumbs to the prepared pan. Using your fingers, press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of the parchment paper. Bake the crust for 8 minutes**. Cool the crust while you make the filling.

Make the filling:
Increase the oven temperature to 350F.

Put the cream cheese in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until smooth, about 1 minute, and blend in the sugar and flour. Add the egg and egg yolk and blend in until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl. Mix in the vanilla, rum and whipping cream. Pour the filling into the crumb crust. Sprinkle the nutmeg evenly over the top.

Bake about 25 minutes, or until the filling looks set when you give the pan a gentle shake.

Cover the pan loosely with paper towels or a tea towel and cool for 1 hour at room temperature. Take the paper towels or tea towel off of the top and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator at least 6 hours or overnight.

*Original recipe calls for 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter, which is what I tried originally but the crust was so crumbly even after baking it. So I drizzled and spread more melted butter on top. In my notes I wrote 10-12 tablespoons butter.
**I ended up baking it for probably 15 minutes, but I'll leave the original suggested baking time in there because I did the crust a bit differently. Just bake it until it's firm and at a point where you'd want to eat it, as it's not getting any more baking after this.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snickerdoodle Muffins

Last Friday I finished my exams and was planning on coming home and having a baking extravaganza, but then I tripped on my cat and fell down the stairs. We're both fine, though I think he's a lot more fine than me because as soon as I felt his soft body under my foot I took all my weight off of him and slid down the stairs. Which has left me with a swollen foot. But since I was so looking forward to baking, I made a couple of more simple things, chocolate pots de creme and eggnog cheesecake bars. Unfortunately I'm not posting about those right now as I have this delicious snickerdoodle muffins that I made weeks ago but haven't had a chance to write about yet.

I recently discovered the insane deliciousness of snickerdoodle cookies. And then Peabody recommended her snickerdoodle muffins which of course I had to try. Though I was a bit skeptical about rolling a "muffin" in a cinnamon-sugar mixture, it worked out really well. I loved plopping the cinnamon-sugar coated muffin balls into the muffin tin. Maybe because they looked like little donuts or something.

As for how they turned out, the muffins were incredibly moist and a great sour cream muffin texture. They were slightly tangier than the ones I made before, though I wonder if that's because I used low fat sour cream instead of regular. While I did enjoy these muffins, I think I'll stick to snickerdoodle cookies, but keep this recipe on hand for other sour cream muffin based concoctions.

Snickerdoodle Muffins
slightly modified from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cup sour cream
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar and 1 TBSP cinnamon mixed together for rolling*

1.Cream the butter and sugar until soft about 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the vanilla. Add in the eggs one at a time and mix until each is incorporated.

2.In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar and nutmeg.

3.Add the flour mixture and the sour cream alternately to the egg-butter mixture in the additions. Start with the flour and end with the flour. Scrape the bowl occasionally.

4. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out muffin batter one at a time and drop into a shallow bowl filled with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll the muffin around in the mixture until it is covered completely in cinnamon sugar. Place muffin into muffin tin. Depending on the size of your tins, you should get about 12 to 14 muffins. Bake them for approx. 20-22 minutes in a 350F oven or until they are golden brown.

*The original recipe calls for 1 cup sugar and 2 tbsp cinnamon, but this was way way too much for me. I ended up dumping maybe more than half of it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Chocolate Chip Cookie Topped Brownies

This will be very brief as I'm in the middle of my finals. I really wish I could spend hours reading food blogs instead. I'll be done on Friday though! Yaey. And I will celebrate by baking eggnog bars and chocolate pots de creme!

After I saw this recipe for chocolate chip cookie topped brownies, I couldn't stop thinking about making them. They did take quite a bit of time to make as you're basically making 2 recipes and putting them together, but are well worth it.

As for the finished product, I wasn't sure what to think at first. I love the idea of a cookie on a brownie, but I couldn't really taste the cookie so that was disappointing. Everybody who tried them really liked them. They freeze really well (which is good because this recipe makes a huge amount), and the brownie texture is pretty much perfect (dense and moist, maybe slightly fudge-y but not ganache-y). I will definitely make these again! My second successful Dorie Greenspan recipe. I can't wait to make practically everything else in Baking From My Home To Yours.

Chipster-Topped Brownies
slightly modified from Baking From My Home To Yours (Dorie Greenspan

Brownie layer:
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 2/3 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped*

Cookie layer:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or 1 cup store-bought chips

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan, line it with wax or parchment paper. Put the pan on a baking sheet.

To make the brownie batter: Put both chocolates and the butter in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stirring occasionally, heat just until the ingredients are melted, shiny and smooth. If the mixture gets too hot, the butter will separate from the chocolates. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale, thick and creamy. Beat in the salt and vanilla extract. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate and butter; mixing only until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula then, still on low speed, add the flour, mixing only until it disappears into the batter. Using the spatula, fold in the walnuts, and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Set aside.

To make the cookie dough: Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Working with the stand mixer in the cleaned bowl, beat the butter and both sugars together on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. One at a time, add the egg and the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the dough. Still on low, mix in the chopped chocolate. Drop the cookie dough by spoonfuls over the brownie batter and, using a spatula and a light touch, spread it evenly over the batter.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cookie top is deep golden brown and firm and a thin knife inserted into the brownie layer comes out with only faint streaks of moist chocolate. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature.

When the brownies are completely cool**, carefully run a knife between the sides of the pan and the brownies, then invert them onto another rack, remove the paper and turn right side up onto a cutting board. Cut into bars about 2 inches x 1 inches.

*Original recipe calls for 1 cup walnuts but that would be too walnut-y for me in a brownie so I put less and it was just perfect.
**If you don't wait until they're cool, you will end up with ugly gooey brownies. While ugly doesn't really matter unless you're serving them to other people that might care, I found that it just made for a bit of a mess between the cookie and brownie layers.