Sunday, January 19, 2014

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Adapted a recipe from this blog, based on the appearance of the texture of the cookies in the photo. They turned out very delicious and very attractive, but were very crunchy, which I love but which was unexpected based on their appearance. They baked into very even cookies with a creased and crackled top that looked like a soft molasses cookie. 

½ cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
1/4 cup peanut butter
½ tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt
1 cup flour

1 cup oats
about 10 oz peanut butter cups (used Trader Joe's milk chocolate) - chopped. Maybe be easier to chop cups if they are frozen first.
 cup instant oats

Cream butter, sugars, peanut butter, vanilla, and egg until blended. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chopped peanut butter cups. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes. Cool for a minute on the cookie sheet before removing the cookies.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Candied Kumquat and Ricotta Tart

For years and years, I've saved a candied kumquat and gingerbread cake recipe to make at the holidays. I love the idea of it, and the festive, jewel-like sparkle of candied fruit. But gingerbread just always sounds too heavy or substantial to follow what always ends up being rich and elaborate holiday meals. So when I came across this recipe also using candied kumquats but instead atop a delicate tart with a light ricotta filling, (on a day I just happened to unrelatedly click through a Facebook link to a blog post about making your own ricotta in the microwave!) I knew I had a winner. 

I have read previously about making ricotta at home and how easy it is and how superior it tastes to store-bought versions, but I'd still felt intimidated. Nor am I enough of a ricotta fan to notice sub-par commercial cheese in the few applications I ever use it. But when I read this posting for making it in the microwave literally in minutes, I had to try it if for no other reason than novelty. 

The recipe says 2 cups of milk yeild about 1/2 cup of ricotta. I repeated the recipe twice (used 1 quart milk total) and ended up with slightly less than a cup of cheese, which was just the right amount for the tart filling. I strained through paper towels for maybe 10 minutes and after refrigerating 24 hours, the cheese was quite firm and hadn't separated any more liquid. It was a lot of fun to watch the curds and whey separate so quickly and easily after just a couple minutes zapping, and in spite of the ridiculous ease, I didn't mind bragging that not only was the tart homemade, but so was the ricotta.

I also made the tart crust the day in advance, pressed into the tart pan and refridgerated unbaked. Other reviewers on epicurious were not as enamored with the crust, but I found it to be exactly right with this tart. It didn't crumble when sliced, it held up well against the soft cheese, and it was a tender crunch of sweetness. I only used just over half of what the recipe called for, and found it plenty thick in the pan. More would have disrupted the balance between flavors.

Slicing and deseeding the kumquats was by far the most time-consuming task. But put on some good music and it only takes about 40 minutes. I thought I did a really good job but when the kumquats were candying, a number more seeds floated to the top which I removed, and when I assembled the final tart, I found a number more that I couldn't retrieve, but which did not impact the final taste or texture. So, be conscientious in your removal, but absolute vigilance is not necessary.

I completed all steps the day in advace and kept components chilled separately overnight. The afternoon of the dinner I baked the crust, and as it takes just minutes to spread the filling in and top with kumquats, it was easy to assemble after it had cooled and still have time before dinner. 

One reviewer suggested slicing the tart before topping with the kumquats to make it easier to create attractive servings. I didn't have much trouble cutting through the full slice, but that is a good recommendation. My family all asked for seconds and were really impressed with the play of flavors in this tart. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mortarboard Cake

What have I been doing that I haven't posted in a month?? I've been graduating! I finished up my Master's degree in August, with all the wrap-up and transitions that go along with it. But in the end I had a fabulous party to celebrate with friends and family (a few very notable exceptions were sadly not in attendance) and I made these cakes to mark the occasion. The design was really easy (which I needed because it had to be large enough to serve 60 people!) but super adorable and festive.

I used the browned-butter cake layers that I made for Will's birthday, and quadrupled the recipe. I browned all the butter (3 pounds) at once, but it still took over 45 minutes to brown the butter on medium low. And that was the only step I could combine; I had to make each recipe separately (ie: the same thing 4 times) otherwise my mixer would overflow.

One-and-one-half times of an 8 or 9" cake recipe will make 10" layers, but I baked each batch in my 2 10-in pans for 32 minutes each. This made thinner layers, which worked just as well for this application.

My party was on Saturday and I prepared the cakes on Wednesday, then froze the layers that evening.

These were a lot of cake layers!

Then I frosted with a double batch of milk chocolate buttercream.
Refrigerated chocolate cookie dough rolled out into a sheet and baked on
parchment makes an easy mortarboard for my graduation cap cake.

Two three-layer 10" round cakes.

Ganache goes on over the buttercream.
Glazed with bittersweet

The mortarboard cookie needed some structural support to keep from sagging;
I constructed a platform from thin tagboard.
And decorated with a package of chocolate cookie dough, rolled flat and trimmed to a square. A dollop of ganache held the tassel in place, and gold sprinkles made the caps particularly festive.  

The finished cakes, and the relieved graduate.

To make two 10" cakes each with four layers, I mixed the recipe below four times, and divided each between two 10" cake pans for slightly thin layers.

Browned Butter Cake Layers
by Tom Douglas as found in Food and Wine magazine

3 sticks unsalted butter (12 ounces), plus more for greasing the pans

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (I used 1 tsp clear vanilla instead)
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
In a medium saucepan, melt the 3 sticks of butter. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until foamy, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the milk solids turn brown and the butter smells nutty, about 4 minutes longer. (Note, it took closer to 20 minutes for me.) Scrape the melted butter and browned bits into a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in an ice water bath until the butter begins to set around the edge, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the 2  1/4 cups of all-purpose flour with the baking powder and salt.

Remove the bowl from the ice water and scrape up the hardened butter. Transfer the butter to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle and beat until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla seeds and beat at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks followed by the whole eggs. Beat in the dry ingredients and milk in 3 alternating additions, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl as necessary.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert them onto a rack to let them cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.

Chocolate ButtercreamFrom The Cake Bible2 pounds milk chocolate
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (I use Lindt 70%)
24 ounces unsalted butter, softened

Melt chocolate, then stir until smooth and room temperature. Beat butter until smooth. Beat chocolate into butter until smooth.

Bittersweet Ganache Glaze
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Lindt 85%)
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 tablespoon dark rum

Chop chocolate. Heat cream to simmer, and pour over chopped chocolate. Allow to rest a few minutes, then stir until smooth. Stir in liqueur. Allow to cool slightly, then pour over cake spreading till smooth but don't try to work it too much or it will streak and clump.

Monday, July 29, 2013

MM-Inspired Barley Salad for Picnic

I needed a good side dish to take to a bbq, and wanted to take a pasta salad but was worried that everyone else would do the same, so checked my cabinets and saw other delicious grains like quinoa and red rice, but selected barley as my base. I could easily swap barley for pasta and toss with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and kalamata olives. Or with cherry tomatoes, basil, and corn kernals. But I wanted something with more vegetables and more protein.
This party was BYOM where the grill was fired up by we were supposed to bring our own grillables. I didn't really want any meat so I wanted to build my salad around some beans. A google search of barley and garbanzo revealed these two recipes which I used as inspiration.
Chickpea, Barley, and Zucchini Salad with Mint and Feta
Moroccan Chickpea Barley Salad

1 cup barley
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans
1 small zucchini, diced or cut into matchsticks
3 medium carrots, diced
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley (I used Italian parsley), chopped
zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon freshly squeeze lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
couple pinches of ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Cook barley by toasting over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically, until some kernels are starting to turn golden and it smells nutty. I added 1 cup broth and 2 cups water, but you can use all water or all broth, and not all will be absorbed, so you can use a little less. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 20-25 minutes until the kernels are tender all the way through. Cool. Toss with remaining ingredients except cheese. Drizzle with about half of dressing, and toss to coat. Add remaining dressing to taste. If not serving right away, reserve remainder of dressing, and toss just before serving, then sprinkle cheese over top and mix in lightly.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dad's birthday blueberry pie

Dad's birthday is always a time for blueberries or peaches. I have tried multiple different desserts for him over the years, generally a blueberry tart or a peach pie. This year I offered up a blueberry pie and his level of anticipation kinda went through the roof. He was pretty pleased with the results, especially with the accompanying homemade coconut ice cream, which is good when you're 67 and have had all matters of different types of birthday celebrations and are getting a bit tired of the chocolate cake your mother buys your or the fancy restaurant your sister wants to take you too when it is the middle of July and all you want to do is sit on your deck in the sun grilling steak and prawns and sopping up buttery pie crust with some blueberry juice and melting ice cream. So go dad for doing what you want one day when all the rest of the year you do for others!

Everyone loved this pie and the coconut ice cream was an excellent accompaniment. I will not make it again, because I thought it was too gelatinous in consistency. It was also a bit sweet, but that could be a factor of the berries and not the amount of sugar - but perhaps 1/2 cup sugar would be plenty. I try to avoid pies in general that use thickeners, but I saw this Cooks Country recipe that calls for the pectin from an apple as part of the thickener along with a bit of tapioca and I might find that more to my preference for next time. Even my tried-and-true Joy of Cooking doesn't really have any berry pie options that sound much better, and that could just be the reason I'm not a huge fan of them. But if any of you readers have suggestions for great fruit pie recipes, please post them in the comments.

I do think the rum added a nice depth to this pie and countered some of the sweetness, and the slices were attractive and not so messy when served, which was also nice. I thought about plums as another source of pectin that might be complementary to blueberries in that they wouldn't be very noticeable but could still add some tartness and deeper notes, particularly in the version made with wine. Readers - try that and let me know! In any case, happy summer baking!

Blueberry Pie
From The Boozy Baker, by Lucy Baker

2/3 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
¼ t cinnamon
¼ t salt
¼ cup dark rum (or fruity red wine for a “sangria pie!”)
4 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 T unsalted butter

I used the other half of the Smitten Kitchen all-butter pie crust I had left in the freezer from two months ago. It bakes much more like puff pastry than what I think of as pie crust, meaning that it is totally delicious, but not necessarily always what you would want. As it was selected to accompany cherry pie, it absolutely worked well for an open-faced blueberry pie.

Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, rum (or fruity red wine), and 1/3 cup water in saucepan. Add 1 ½ cups blueberries and bring to boil over medium. Boil 1-2 minutes until very thick and clear. Remove from heat, add butter and stir until melted.

Add remaining 2 ½ cups berries and pour into piecrust, then chill until set.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Coconut Ice Cream

Perfectly divine. Salted caramel is a trendy craze whose time - in Seattle at least - is over-the-hill in my opinion. But that doesn't make the salty sweet caramelized flavor of this decadent dessert any less delectable. I offered to bring homemade ice cream to a small dinner party and didn't have any guidance on the menu or other taste preferences. So I wanted to break out of the vanilla mold, especially since I wasn't trying to pair with a cake or pie or other baked good. I wanted a flavor that could stand on its own as dessert.

This ice cream is incredibly rich, and it is quite sweet, but I did not find it cloying and in spite of the heavy ratio of cream to milk, because of the caramel it did not have that greasy coat-the-spoon texture of some ice cream that is really just TOO rich.

When it was finished churning, it still poured out of the freezing canister (rather than being scooped) so I was a bit concerned about how it would set up. But what that really meant is that after a couple of hours of freezing, this ice cream had an absolutely perfect, creamy, scoopable consistency. Just don't expect to make and serve this right away, you'll want to plan enough time to return the churned product to the freezer.

I like to add a bit of alcohol to my ice creams, to preserve the consistency by preventing a completely solid freezing of the mix and to inhibit the particular formation of ice crystals that diminish an ice cream's consistency. In this case, dark rum - even in such a small quantity - adds a lot to play off the deep notes of caramelized sugar. This is absolutely a full-star recipe and I can't wait to make it again.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Adapted from
Gourmet Magazine

1 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such (I had fleur de sel)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs

1 tablespoon dark rum (or brandy)

Heat 1 cup sugar in a heavy, dry 10-inch pan over medium heat, stirring to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt. Stop stirring and allow sugar to melt to a dark amber, swirling occasionally. Once it gets going, it happens quickly, so watch the pan carefully.         

Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. This can take awhile, and at first the sugar will all turn into a hard clump, but jut keep stirring the simmering cream and it ultimately will all dissolve. Strain caramel into a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring milk and remaining cup cream just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.

Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add a bit of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until custard coats registers at least 160°F (do not let boil).

Note: most of my ice cream recipes use a maximum of two eggs and 3 cups of milk/cream so the ratio of this step of the custard making is much different. As a result, the eggs come to temperature much more quickly and it's easy for them to curdle, so be sure to whisk constantly and watch carefully.

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel. Chill overnight, then stir in 1 scant tablespoon dark rum before freezing in ice cream churn. Allow enough time to return churned mix to the freezer to freeze for a couple of hours before serving. Mixture will still be quite soft after churning but will firm to the perfect consistency.

Coconut Ice Cream

I chose coconut ice cream to accompany blueberry pie for my dad's birthday. It was an excellent accompaniment with good strong coconut flavor, but the consistency of this batch was not comparable to the few I've made. I can blame it on coconut, which is not my favorite flavor to begin with, or I can blame it on the fact that I "upgraded" to heavy cream (which is 40% fat) compared to the 36% fat whipped cream that I usually use. I very carefully calculate the percentages of fat in all my recipes, accounting for whole versus skim milk, and I did not do that this time, and I think it makes a real difference. It could be an improvement that I am just not used to, or it could actually be what pushes it over-the-edge to "too rich." In any case, it worked great with sweet, fruity, berry pie but Will will have to work through the leftovers in the freezer on his own.

Bring 1 1/2 cups cream to simmer then stir in 2 cups toasted shredded sweetened coconut. Cover, and steep 30 minutes.
Strain mixture and stir in 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup milk, return to simmer. Separately beat 2 eggs, then slowly whisk in part of hot cream mix, then return egg mixture to remainder of cream and whisk constantly over medium heat until it reaches 160 degrees. Remove from heat immediately and stir in additional half cup milk and half cup cream, along with 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract and 1 tablespoon light rum. Chill overnight then churn and freeze.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Little Piggy Cookies

I've talked about my friends' Cinco de Mayo party in a previous post, along with the recipes I've made to take which are not necessarily traditional Mexican dishes, but then neither again is the holiday itself!
This year, as the date approached, other media sources were building up with discussions of festivities and ways to participate, and NPR raised the topic of cochinitos, or "piggy cookies." These are not something I had heard of before, though apparently they are ubiquitous all over Mexico year-round. I suspect that now that I know them, I will notice them everywhere, but it was fun to make a new discovery. They are a cinnamon-spiced honey or molasses cookie in the shape of a pig.

The recipe called for piloncillo, a type of brown sugar that is packed in a cone shape. It can be cut from the cone with a serrated knife, or grated. I tried multiple ways to prepare it, because it is quite firm, including serrated and chef's knives, box grater, and microplane. I found the microplane to be easiest, though for this particular recipe, because it is combined with water until it dissolves, I don't think the sugar has to be prepared quite so carefully, just cut into small enough pieces that it can dissolve evenly.

On my trip to the Latin market to purchase some, I checked their bakery section for already made piggy cookies, which naturally they had. I bought a few so as to have a comparison with my homemade version. The cookies from the store were very molasses-y, but the texture was quite similar. I baked my cookies the day of the party, so as the recipe explains, they were very soft and cakey. The guests all raved about them (though I suspect that could partially have been a result of the only other dessert being some dry brownies), so we didn't have enough to last days and see how they tasted as they got a little crunchier.

[For the shape, I used a pancake mold that I happened to have from a set of farm animal shapes that had been given to me due to the sheep, and the pig and cow molds were just the bonus. If you know of any "cow cookie" recipes, send them my way!]

Piggy Cookies
by Pati Jinich, from
1 3/4 cups (10 ounces) firmly packed grated piloncillo (or dark brown sugar)
3/4 cup water
1 Ceylon cinnamon stick
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature, plus more for the cookie sheets
2 tablespoons honey
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature, plus
1 large egg, lightly beaten, for glaze
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the piloncillo, water, and cinnamon and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the piloncillo has dissolved and the liquid thickens to a light syrup. Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Add the butter and honey and stir until they melt.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the piloncillo mixture. Mix with a rubber spatula until well combined. Add 2 of the eggs and stir until thoroughly mixed. The dough will be very sticky and gooey.

3. Place two long pieces of plastic wrap, one running horizontally and one vertically, in a medium bowl, letting the ends overhang the edges of the bowl. With a rubber spatula, scrape the dough onto the plastic wrap, then bring the edges of the wrap over the dough and secure tightly (leave the dough in the bowl). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

4. Preheat the oven to 375°F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Butter two cookie sheets.

5. Sprinkle flour on a work surface and a rolling pin. Cut the dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 3-inch piggy cookie cutter, press straight down on the dough to cut out cookies, moving the cutter slightly on the work surface to make it easier to lift up the cookies. Gather the scraps into a ball and roll out again. Transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart. If the dough becomes too sticky, roll it into a ball, wrap it again in plastic wrap, and place it in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes before rolling again.

6. Gently brush the cookie tops with the remaining egg. Bake in batches for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and golden on top. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Sift confectioners' sugar on top of the cooled cookies.