Saturday, December 26, 2009

Raisin Date Cupcakes: One last Saturday treat...

Two weeks ago, as Sami and I were rushing around frantically trying to clear the house out for the renters, my friend Michelle came by to help me clean out my fridge. Before she left with a giant Costco bag full of half-full jars of condiments and oils and other gourmet goodies, I offered her a cup of tea and a muffin. "Looks like someone's still procrastinating," she commented.

Bingo! But it was a Saturday, after all, and I have to bake on Saturdays! I haven't baked for two Saturdays in a row, and let me tell you, it's killing me!
So these are the muffins I baked. Maida calls them "Raisin Date Cupcakes." You can tell already that Alicia's going to love them. But sadly, I had no dates anywhere, and I was not about to do any more grocery shopping one day before I left the country for half a year. So I decided that I would do a bit of a freezer clear out. I needed 12.5 oz. of dried fruit, and this is what I put together: about 4 dried pears, a large handful of dried apricots, a bunch of prunes, some dried cherries, some golden raisins, and some currants. It made for a nice, festive mixture with a lot of flavor but no one fruit dominating. It was probably a lot less sweet than the original date version. And I felt good about making a dent in my dried fruit reserves.
This is a very wet muffin recipe (I have no idea why these are called cupcakes), like the gingerbread muffin recipe. Mine seemed fully baked when I took them out of the oven, but I found them a tad too moist--it's probabaly hard to judge doneness with all that dried fruit. But I enjoyed them, and so did Michelle, and I somehow got over my procrastinating and whipped the house in shape--more or less...

Here's the recipe; adjust it to the dried fruit you like and have on hand.
Raisin Date Cupcakes

10 oz. pitted dates (or other dried fruit)
2.5 oz. raisins (or other dried fruit)
2 cups minus 2 T. boiling water
1 t. baking soda
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
finely grated rind of one orange
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) brown sugar (if you're using very tart dried fruit, you may want to slightly increase this amount)
2 large eggs
1-1/3 c. (5.2 oz.) flour (you bet I used up some of my whole wheat flour here)

Heat the oven to 350 and spray or line 12 muffin cups. Cut up the dried fruit with scissors and put in a medium sized bowl. Sprinkle the baking soda over and then pour the boiling water over that. Let it stand to cool.
Cream the butter with the salt, vanilla, and orange rind until soft and fluffy; add the sugar and beat it some more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is well incorporated. Then gradually add the flour on low speed until it is just incorporated. Mix in the water and dried fruit by hand. The mixture will be very wet and liquid. Pour/spoon it into the muffin cups and bake for about 30 minutes or until the tops spring back when pressed right in the middle. You might want to do a toothpick test as well. Enjoy with a cup of tea on a lazy (or not so lazy) Saturday morning.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Texas Truffles: Texas-sized treats

So there was one recipe in Maida's book that I was sure I should make before I left for France: Texas Truffles. Marshmallows, marshmallow fluff, sweetened condensed milk--not exactly French ingredients, though they can be found. Also pecans. Two pounds. This called for a trip to Sam's Club.

And I'm glad I made these before Christmas. They made great gifts. People LOVED them! They're big and sweet and nutty and have that whole rocky road thing going on. Everyone I gave them to dived into them and really seemed to enjoy the experience. I didn't actually eat one but enjoyed some of the fudge that got stuck to the edge of the bowl with some extra pecans.
Bonus: these are very, very easy to make. Maida says it takes 2 hours, and maybe it does if you hover around and reshape them until they're perfect, as she suggests. However, if you dip the marshmallow once and declare it good, this takes about 15-20 minutes. I had planned to make this a project to do with our French exchange student Marjorie. We got started, then Sami took her on a test drive of the car she's borrowing, and by the time she returned, Claire and I had finished. Oh, well...
So this is how the process works: you melt some chocolate with marshmallow fluff and sweetened condensed milk, in the microwave, of course.

Then you dip marshmallows in that fudgy goodness.

They get very thickly coated. Then they go in for a coating of nuts.

Look at that marshmallow swimming in a sea of pecans. Finally they chill out on some waxed paper before going into little candy cups (actually, big muffin cups).
Then they're done. And they keep really well at room temp.
Maybe it's too late to make these for Christmas, but keep this one in mind for next year! Easy and popular--how can you go wrong?

Texas Truffles

About 2 lbs. pecans, chopped (I had about a cup left over, which I used in cookies later in the week)
18 oz. milk chocolate (I used about 12 oz. milk chocolate and 6 oz. dark chocolate to cut the sweetness)
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 7-oz. jar marshmallow fluff
36-40 marshmallows

Melt the chocolate with the milk and fluff in a large microwave-safe bowl in the microwave--it'll take 1-1/2 to two minutes, in 30-second intervals. The mixture will be quite thick. In the meantime, put the chopped pecans in a pie plate. Also line a big baking sheet with waxed paper. Get out a big roasting fork and a rubber spatula. Do not spear the marshmallow--just use the fork to kind of cradle the marshmallow while you coat it in fudge. Then let it drip off before you drop it into the pecans and roll it around. Repeat until you're out of fudge, which will be the first thing to run out. Put in fancy muffin liners and give away. Feel generous and festive.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

David's over-the-top chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies seem to have become a science lately. Everyone seems to have a secret: the Cook's Illustrated recipe has you work with melted butter; other experts tell you to make sure to rest your cookie dough at least overnight for the best effect. Bridget at crumbly cookie has a nice comparison of different chocolate chip techniques. But my standby recipe is Dorie Greenspan's recipe, which I always make in advance: I scoop the dough into balls on a waxed-paper-lined baking sheet, freeze them, put the frozen dough balls in a Zip-loc, and bake as many as I want/need at a time. And somehow there are always fewer dough balls in the freezer as I think there should be, thanks to a couple of gremlins who enjoy frozen cookie dough...

But apparently even back in 1985, there was a chocolate chip cookie craze going on as well. And this recipe, for David's Cookies, stems from a trendy chocolate-chip-cookie store in New York.
I've just been comparing this recipe to my favorite one. There's no leavening in this recipe, only one egg, and less chocolate, if I'm doing my metric conversions right (no guarantee on that one!). There's also less sugar, which is just brown in this case. They have more of a crumbly than a chewy texture, but they are delicious in their own right. I gave them the overnight-in-the-freezer treatment, and they seemed to handle that well. All I know is that I took them to church and came home without any. I guess that speaks for the enduring fascination for chocolate chip cookies!

Here's the recipe--enjoy! (but try Dorie's recipe, too!)

David's cookies

8 oz. semisweet chocolate--try to go for the good stuff
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1 cup (7 oz.) brown sugar
1 large egg
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour (I believe I used some white whole wheat with no problems)
1 c. (4 oz.) chopped pecans/walnuts (those toasted Trader Joe's ones are perfect here)

Line a big sheet pan with waxed paper. Get out a cutting board and big knife and cut the chocolate into about 1/2-inch chunks. You'll end up with some huge and some tiny chunks and apparently that's the charm of breaking up chocolate rather than using chocolate chips. If you use thin bars like the Ghirardelli or Lindt it'll be easier than if you use the big-bruiser Pound Plus bar I had on hand...
Beat the butter with the salt until it's fluffy; then gradually add the vanilla and sugar and beat for a good 5 minutes. Add the egg and beat that until well incorporated. Then at low speed, gradually add the flour until it's just incorporated. (Hey, in the comments section--do you have any tips for adding flour without it spraying all over the counter? I've tried covering the mixer with a kitchen towel and pre-mixing with a rubber scraper before turning on the mixer, both with "mixed" success.) Then add the chocolate chunks and nuts, either with the mixer or by hand.
Scoop out teaspoon-sized balls of dough onto the waxed paper--they can go right next to each other. Freeze at least overnight--if they're going to stay in the freezer longer, transfer them into a zip-loc bag. Now heat the oven to 400 and line some cookie sheets with parchment or Silpats. Put the dough balls on the sheets, a dozen at a time, and bake about 8-10 minutes, or until the edges have started to brown. You'll see mine were a bit browner than that, but I didn't find them to be overbaked. Transfer to a rack as soon as possible. Enjoy one fresh from the oven, then quickly pack them away.
Julia wrote a recipe for chocolate chip cookies for her French class; this is her descriptive paragraph, roughly translated:
"These exquisitely delicious cookies have an aroma that will make you think of Paradise. The rich combination of cookie and chocolate will make your mouth water when you smell them. Savor the chocolate that melts in your mouth when you taste these delicacies." Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

100% Whole Wheat Gingersnaps

This recipe is the third, and I believe final, gingersnap recipe in this cookbook. Not that I'm complaining--I love ginger recipes, and they're especially appropriate at this time of year. I still think the chocolate gingersnaps are my favorite, but these are up there, too.

These are Maida's whole wheat gingersnaps, and they have a LOT of grated fresh ginger as well as some cinnamon and clove. The sugar is brown and the flour is all whole wheat, so these have a hearty, "dark" taste. But there's enough butter to make them nice and sandy.
Another thing I like about this recipe is that it takes about 5 minutes to make the dough--you don't even need to remember to get the butter out of the fridge. Just get out the food processor and start whizzing away!
I didn't get a lot of reaction on these cookies--I think because I served them with the chocolate cheesecake brownies and some other more spectacularly rich cookies (recipes to come). Like the cranberry grunt, this is rather an ugly duckling recipe. But it's a homey, comforting one worth trying--I think.

Here's the recipe:
100 Percent Whole Wheat Gingersnaps

2-1/2 oz. (this is a bigger piece than you'd think) fresh ginger--no need to peel
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cloves
1 t. cinnamon
2 egg yolks
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) brown sugar
2 cups (10 oz.) sifted whole wheat flour--I used whole wheat pastry flour, but this recipe was probably written for coarser flour.

Get out your food processor. Cut the ginger into thinnish slices and, with the processor running, drop the pieces a few at a time through the feed tube. When the ginger is finely minced, stop the machine. Cut the butter into about 12 pieces and do the same thing with it that you did with the ginger, processing until the butter is soft. Now add the vanilla, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and egg yolks, and process just until everything is blended. Add the sugar and half the flour and process again just until it's mixed. Add the rest of the flour and mix again. It may take a while until the mixture holds together. I ended up dumping out the crumbs on a big piece of waxed paper and squeezing it together. However you get the dough to come together, you'll want to wrap it up and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.
When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 and line some cookie sheets with foil or parchment or whatever you have. Also get out a pastry cloth and rolling pin and flour them--you won't need to flour as heavily as you did for the tea cakes or My Mother's Gingersnaps. Roll the dough (probably about half of it at a time) out to 3/8-inch (like I measured--ha!) and then cut with a round cookie cutter of the size you like. Put the rounds on a baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake for about 25 minutes or until just slightly darker. Cool on racks and store airtight. This makes more than the 24 cookies Maida said--I guess my cookie cutter is smaller than 2 inches. Enjoy, as Maida says, with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

The next few posts will be about the many cookies I made for an event at church. We have an "Alternative Gift Market" every year which gives congregants a chance to make gift donations to local and international charities. (Hey, Dad and Sharmyn, we made a donation to "our" Guatemalan coffee cooperative towards helping them buy roasting equipment. Merry Christmas!)
As a member of the organizing committee, I was asked to put my "special gifts" to work and bake cookies for the event. "Now's my chance!" I thought. "I can get a bunch of Maida recipes taken care of in one fell swoop!"

These brownies were the first on the list, and I believe they were also the first to disappear. After all, what's not to like? A nice fudgy brownie with lots of pecans and coconut (think German Chocolate Cake), topped off with a chocolate cheesecake layer and a sprinkling of cocoa.

Here are the finished brownies in my messy kitchen, ready to make their debut. Don't they look nice?

These are super rich and should be cut in small squares: even the smallish squares I made here were pretty generous. Sami compared them to truffles. They are also best served cold.

Here's the recipe, doubled for a 9x13 pan, which makes a ton of brownies. If you don't have a crowd to bake for, halve the recipe for a 9-inch square pan.

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter
1/8 t. salt
2 scant cups (12 oz.) sugar
1 t. vanilla
4 large eggs
2/3 c. (3.3 oz.) flour
8 oz. (2 cups) toasted pecan halves
4 oz. (1 cup) coconut

Heat the oven to 350. Get out a 9x13 pan and line it with aluminum foil; spray the foil. (Now is also a good time to get out the cream cheese for the topping, if you haven't already.) Put the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 2-3 30-second bursts, stirring in between. When all is melted and smooth, add the salt, sugar, and vanilla. Then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each and making sure they don't cook. Then add the flour and finally the nuts and coconut. Spread into the prepared pan and set aside while you make the cheesecake part.

16 oz. (2 bricks) cream cheese, room temperature (I used one regular and one low-fat)
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) sugar
6 T. (1.1 oz.) unsweetened cocoa
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs
2 T. flour
More cocoa powder, for dusting

In your mixer, beat the cheese until it is soft, then add the remaining ingredients one at a time. (I bet you could also do this in the food processor.) Pour this on top of the brownie layer, then put all that in the oven and bake it for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature. Then use a small strainer to sift some cocoa on top. Now you need to unmold these babies. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to make sure nothing is sticking Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and turn the brownie pan upside down on it. With luck, the brownies will come right out. Take off the aluminum foil and turn the brownies right side up again. Then put them in the fridge or freezer to chill until firm. When they're nice and firm, cut them into as many as 64 small squares. Enjoy the looks on people's faces when you serve them these!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Daddy's Cake

Ah, the holiday rush. Party after party after party...When you're supposed to be baking for a blog, this can be a good thing. Especially if you have a gigantic cake with a tunnel of fudge you're supposed to bake. Take it to the party and let other people eat it, I say! So that's what I did with this cake about 2 weeks ago.
On the day I baked this, I had a lot going on: the usual Saturday laundry/shopping routine, closets that were calling to be cleaned out, I think there was editing as well, and I had promised to bake cookies for a church function. And the cake had to be ready for a 3:00 party. Fortunately, this is one of those cakes that looks impressive but is actually fairly easy. You make pretty much a pound cake, then put together a coffee-flavored ganache; pour the ganache into a trench in the cake batter, sprinkle that with pecans, and bake.

Here's the cake getting ready to bake.

And here it is fresh from the oven. I didn't get a chance to photograph it frosted, and it didn't get cut until the party, so I don't have a "tunnel of fudge" picture. What I noticed is that the fudge and the frosting pretty much join in a giant layer of chocolate at the top of the cake. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I tasted a bit of the white cake, and it was very good--dense and just a bit fluffy. Sami tried the whole thing and pronounced it delicious. None of it came home, which is a very good sign--for the cake and for me!

Here's the recipe. Bake this when you have a lot of people to feed!
Big Daddy's Cake

7 oz. (2 cups) toasted pecan halves/large pieces (here you probably don't want the TJ's chopped pecans because they're too small)
6 oz. semisweet chocolate
3 T. strong coffee (2-3 t. instant espresso dissolved in 3 T. water, or leftover from the morning)
3 T. cream
12 oz. (3 sticks!!) butter, room temperature
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1-1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract
2 c. (14 oz.) sugar
6 large eggs
4 c. (16 oz.) sifted flour
1-1/4 c. milk

Heat the oven to 350; spray a Bundt pan well. Chop half of the pecans fine and coat the Bundt pan with them. Leave the pecans that don't stick to the sides of the pan on the bottom of the pan.
Melt the chocolate with the coffee in the microwave--it will probably take two 30-second sessions. Stir until smooth, then add the cream. Set this aside.
Cream the butter with the baking powder and salt until fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, vanilla, and almond extract, and beat for 5-7 minutes or until super fluffy and light in color. This is something I heard on the Splendid Table--you should really beat the butter and sugar a long time to form as many air bubbles as possible. You could probably melt your chocolate and stuff while the butter is mixing. Now add the eggs one at a time, beating until well incorporated after each. (I tried out my Beater Blade with this cake and was delighted to see that I didn't have to scrape down the bowl all the time.) On low speed add the flour in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions. When it's all mixed, pour it into the prepared Bundt pan. Make a trench in the batter and pour the chocolate mixture into the trench. I put it in in globs and then spread it around. Break the remaining cup of pecans into large pieces and sprinkle them on top of everything. Then put it all in the oven and bake for 50-55 minutes. Cover it with foil and give it another 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. The cake will have a giant crack in it. Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, then carefully unmold it onto a plate. Let it cool completely, or until it's almost time to go to the party, whichever comes first.
Now it's time to make the glaze. This is a no-brainer:

6 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 T. butter

Melt this in the microwave in 2 30-second bursts; stir until smooth. Pour over the cake and let it drip down the sides. Regard your masterpiece and then hustle it out of the house. The recipe says 12 portions, but I would say it's at least 20.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cranberry Grunt

In the weeks since Thanksgiving, I've been baking up a storm, but haven't had the time to sit down and write about it. Now that I'm in France and have little to do, I'll have plenty of time to catch up--and then bake some more!
So the first dessert I want to write about is what I'd like to call a "gimme" dessert: it's one of two that Alicia and I ate, if not made, together. I made Cranberry Grunt, one because it seemed Thanksgiving-y and two because cranberries are so darned hard to find in France. Alicia's girls Natalie and Cassandra made the Chocolate Mousse Pie, which I hope they will blog about. Maybe Sharmyn can send the picture of them with their creation? I couldn't find my camera (I believe that's my excuse), so no pictures of the grunt. It was kind of pretty, though--spirals of dough on top of the cranberry-red sauce/filling.
So to the Cranberry Grunt. This turned out to be a rather forlorn dessert at Thanksgiving, which is a shame. It just couldn't keep up with pumpkin and apple and chocolate pie, but it is delicious in its own right--I think it would make a really good breakfast, actually. As Natalie put it, it's basically cranberry sauce with biscuits on top. What's not to like?
So maybe I'll make this sometime when I don't have a gigantic meal and five other desserts to compete with it, because it is a simple and tasty dessert.

Here's the recipe:
Cranberry Grunt

12 oz. cranberries
2 large apples (I used three small Pink Ladys), peeled and cut up into 1/2-inch dice
2/3 c. water
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar
1 oz. (2 T.) butter
scant 1/4 t. cloves
1/2 t. nutmeg
scant 1/4 t. allspice

Heat the oven to 425. Get out a baking dish that holds at least 8 cups (I used Dad's brown Pyrex 7x11 dish, I think) and butter/spray it. Wash and drain the cranberries, if you think about it, and put them in a saucepan with the apples, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, reduce the heat, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and add the butter and spices. Your kitchen will smell like an aromatherapy salon. This would be a good thing to have on the stove if you're trying to sell your house.
Anyway, take a deep whiff and get going on your biscuit dough:

1-1/2 c. (6 oz.) sifted flour
1 T. baking powder--I used 1-1/2 t. as per Shirley Corriher, and these turned out fine
1/4 t. salt
2 T. sugar
2 oz. (4 T.) cold butter + 1 oz. (2 T.) melted butter
1/3 c. milk
1/4 c. strawberry jam "or other red preserves"--I used raspberry

You could do this in a food processor or with a pastry blender. I used a food processor--I had a turkey to think about. Put your dry ingredients in the bowl of the processor. Process a couple of seconds just to blend, then cut the cold butter into about 8 pieces and add to the processor. Process that a few times until you have coarse crumbs with some larger pieces of butter. Add the milk and process just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it just a couple of turns until the dough holds together nicely. Then roll it out into an 8x12 rectangle of sorts. Brush that with the melted butter (it will seem like an awful lot). Heat the jam in the microwave about 30 seconds and then spread that over the butter (which will have congealed in the meantime, making the spreading less messy. Then roll up jelly-roll style and cut into 1-inch slices. I find that unflavored dental floss works best for this. And it's fun.
Now put the cranberry mixture into the prepared pan and lay the biscuit slices on top. You can do it in neat rows like Maida, or just however they fit best. If you have any leftover melted butter (I did), you could brush the biscuits with that and maybe even sprinkle them with a bit of sugar. Then put that in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the biscuits are nice and brown. Serve warm--I think ice cream would be nice with this. Whipped cream was also good. Maida recommends Ricotta Cream, but we're not going there. Enjoy!