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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies

I'm a sucker for a good chocolate chip cookie.  I prefer soft and chewy ones (although recently I did have a delicious crispy one, too), so when I caught a glimpse of these aptly named "actually perfect" chocolate chip cookies, I knew I had to try them.


And trust me when I tell you that I was right!

These cookies are perfectly soft and chewy in the center, with just the slightest crisp at the edges, and packed with chocolate chips (I used half chunks, half chips).  They are actually perfect.



Of course, I already have a few ideas on how to doctor these a little (browned butter?  a sprinkling of sea salt?  a dash on cinnamon?), but for now I'm just going to enjoy these in all their perfectionism in their original state.  And then I'm going to promptly package them up for B to bring to work and some going away parties he has :-)

Actually Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Lauren's Latest

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips (I used semisweet chunks instead)

Directions:

Stir melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until well combined.
Add in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.
Mix until light in color.
Add in the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and the bottom really well to ensure the batter is well mixed.

Hand stir the chocolate chips into the batter.
Let dough stand for 20 minutes to let the flour soak into the rest of the batter.

Preheat the oven to 325 while the dough is resting.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop cough dough onto prepared pans using a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop.

Bake 8-9 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking (I didn't read that part before baking).
When you take the cookies out of the oven, they will look cooked around the edges and undercooked in the center.

Leave the cookies on the hot baking pans for 5-7 minutes or until you can remove them without falling apart.
Place onto cooling racks.
Cool to room temperature before storing in airtight containers.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cream cheese sugar cookies -- two ways!

The holidays are rapidly approaching (or at least it seems that way), and with Channukkah and Christmas falling at the exact same time this year (remember Thanksgivukkah, when Channukkah fell on Thanksgiving?  Just to jog your memory...), I have double baking duty: Channukkah treats for my family, and Christmas treats for my doormen and favorite baristas.


So I started early this year.  I was thinking of making my butter cookies or even cut-out sugar cookies, but then I came across this recipe for cream cheese sugar cookies, and I thought that they just sounded perfect (and they were).  But here's the thing -- this recipe makes a TON of dough.  So much so that I ended up freezing half of it and still got an insane amount of cookies.  Like, I shouldn't have been surprised -- the recipe called for over 5 cups of flour!


Knowing my antsy and unable-to-delay-gratification self, and not wanting to wait at least 2 hours for the dough to chill. I went ahead and used the soft, fresh dough to make spritz cookies - i just added a few nonpareils on top before baking.  They held their shape and they were delicious.  I packaged them up (after a little sample for each of us) for B to bring to work, since I knew I'd be making more of the dough later in the form of cut-out cookies.  After (not so) patiently waiting for the dough to chill (and baking another kind of cookie....don't worry, they'll be up soon), I went ahead and made adorable little cut-out cookies in hearts and stars.  These cookies would really be awesome decorated with royal icing, but I was pressed for time, so I drizzled these with white chocolate and then sprinkled a few more nonpareils on top.  But remember that dough that I froze for later?  Yeah, those'll be decorated with royal icing.

Those other cookies, you must be wondering...what are those?
Well, my friends, those will be up shortly.... :-)

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
From Cookies & Cups

Ingredients:

1 8oz brick of cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups of butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
5 1/4 cups flour

Nonpareils for decorating
White chocolate, for drizzling

Directions:

If making spritz cookies, preheat oven to 350F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until creamy, about 2 minutes.
Scrape sides as necessary.

Add sugar and beat for an additional 3 minutes.
Mixture should be fluffy and pale in color.
Turn mixer to medium-low.
Add in egg yolks, vanilla, and salt.
Mix until combined.

Turn mixer to low.
Slowly add in flour.
Mix just until all flour is incorporated.

If making cut out cookies, wrap dough in disks in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.
Continue below at the *.

If making spritz cookies, transfer dough to a cookie press or a piping bag fitted with a decorative tip.
Pipe dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 
Sprinkle with nonpareils or sprinkles. 
Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

* If making cut-out cookies, remove dough from fridge.
In portions, roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness on a floured surface.
Using cookie cutters, cut the dough.
Place cut cookies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.  If making smaller cookies, like I did, start checking them at 7 minutes.  My mini cookies took 8 minutes to bake.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

If icing cookies, wait until completely cooled before icing cookies.
I'll post my royal icing recipe when I post the decorated cut out cookies later.  
Drizzle with white chocolate and sprinkle with nonpareils.  
NOTE: Cookies can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rosemary, pecan, and parmesan cookies

I can see you. Through the computer. With that quizzical look. Rosemary + Parmesan, in a cookie?  She's for sure lost it this time.


But I haven't.  Nor has the creator of this cookie, Dorie Greenspan. (She's kinda like THE cookie goddess, if you don't know who she is.)  Nor has the person who recommended them to me, and told me that despite all the Thanksgiving baking I still had left to do, these cookies definitely needed to be made. 


These cookies are savory -- a savory shortbread, almost closer to a cracker, with a fine crumb (they're so crumbly, but in the best way possible) and just the teensiest hint of sweetness.  So much so that they're called -- get this -- cocktail cookies!  Not in the sense that there's booze in them (how can we make that happen?!), but in the sense that you eat them with booze.  White wine was mentioned somewhere, so was some champagne.  I could definitely get on board with that!

So yeah, these cookies.  It's probably too late for you to make them for this Thanksgiving, but Christmas is right around the corner....so is New Year's...or just any random Friday (or Tuesday) night!

A few thoughts about these cookies:

- They come together super easily!  Like all in the bowl of a food processor. No warming of the butter to room temperature.  Literally a few whirls in the food processor. That's it, people!
- Please, freshly grate your Parmesan. Don't use the stuff from the container from the grocery store.  I just feel like the freshly grated stuff is worlds better when it comes to baking.
- I'm toying with the idea of adding a few grinds of fresh black pepper next time.  I might also up the cheese just a little bit. 
- Lastly, don't be lazy like yours truly. Not wanting to take out your food processor because it's in the back of the cabinet behind a lot of other stuff is a pathetic reason to half the recipe so that you can use your mini-prep (which is way more accessible), yielding half as many delicious cookies, and just necessitating that you make another batch sooner.

Rosemary-Parmesan Shortbread Cookies
These were recommended to me by a friend, who has Dorie's new cookbook.  She even sent me pictures of the recipe from the book, but the flash got in the way, so a not-so-quick, very specific internet search yielded me the recipe linked above.

For a more crumbly texture, Dorie recommends not grating your cheese too fine.

Yields about 60 cookies

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp granualted sugar
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
1/3 cup Parmesan, grated and lightly packed
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small chunks
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

Special tools:
1.5" round cookie cutter

Instructions:

Season the sugar:
Working in a small bowl, run the sugar and rosemary together with your fingertips until the sugar turns moist, aromatic, and maybe even tinged green (mine was not green, and my fingers killed from all the mixing, so I left mine aromatic and moist, but still white)

Toast the pecans:
I did mine in a toasted at 400F.  
Watch closely, mine took about 5 minutes.  
Do not let them burn 

Prepare the dough:

Combine the flour, pecans, Parmesan, salt, and rosemary sugar in a food processor.
Pulse to blend.
Add in the pieces of cold butter.
Pulse until the mixture turns crumbly.
Slowly and gradually pulse in the beaten egg yolk.
Then continue to pulse the mixture until it turns to a moist dough that forms clumps and curds.

Roll the dough:

Turn the dough out and divide it in half.
Pat each half into a disk.
Working with one disk at a time, place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper.
Roll the dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness.
Repeat with the other half.
Without removing the parchment paper, slide both disks onto a baking sheet -- you can stack them -- and freeze for at least 1 hour.  (Freeze?  Haha.  My freezer is FULL TO THE MAX.  Literally.  I could not fit a baking sheet into it if I tried.  So I refrigerated mine overnight.)

Position your oven rack to the center of your oven.
Preheat to 350F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.
Have your cookie cutter on hand.

Cut the cookies:
Working with one slab of dough at a time, peel away the top sheet of parchment paper.
Use the cookie cutter to cut out as many circles as you can.
Transfer them to the prepared baking sheet.
Leave about 1 inch between cookies.
Combine the scraps from both portions of dough.
Re-roll the dough.
Freeze and repeat the process with the remaining dough.
Always make sure that you start with a cool baking sheet.

Bake the cookies, for about 15 minutes, or once they turn golden and have set.
Rotate your baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through the baking time.
Once done, let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 3 minutes and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.
Bake the remaining cookies.

To store:
If wrapped well, the rolled out dough can be frozen and stored for up to 2 months.
Simply cut out the dough and bake directly from the freezer.
Baked cookies can be kept in a covered container for up to 1 week at room temperature.

Serve with a crisp glass of white wine or champagne.  (or the whole bottle....this is a no judgement zone!)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Pumpkin spice candied nuts

At my grandfather's 90th birthday (!!) celebration last night, my aunt (who hosts Thanksgiving) asked me if I was baking anything for Thanksgiving.  Of course, the answer was yes!  I asked her what she wants, and I heard the most beautiful words ever: "you have free reign."  As in I can bake whatever I want!  And what's even more, my cousin (whom I love dearly, and we will all miss at Thanksgiving dinner) with the nut allergy won't be there, I can really bake anything!


Like these nuts.

OK, OK, they don't technically fall under "baking," however they do go in the oven, so they are technically baked.

I had been toying with the idea of making some pumpkin spice candied nuts for a while.  But as you probably know, I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin spice.  And when I came home and got ready to bake them, the pumpkin spice mix I thought I had at home was nowhere to be seen.  So with that little snafu (combined with the fact that my Trader Joe's was out of pumpkin spice, too!) as my disdain for pumpkin spice flavors, I made these candied nuts with a combination of spices found in pumpkin spice, but not all of them.  Which is fine for me, since the missing spices are actually the spices I don't like in pumpkin spice flavored foods and drinks.

I chose to package these nuts in a clear cube box (meant for cupcakes).  With a nice bow and cute hanging tag, they'd be a perfect holiday hostess gift...or gift for the pumpkin spice lover in your life!

Pumpkin Spice Candied Nuts
Adapted from these candied cinnamon sugar nuts

Ingredients:

6 cups of nuts (I used mixed nuts.  I wanted to make sure to have some pecans in it, since I think pumpkin pie and pecan pie are synonymous with Thanksgiving.  After devouring half the recipe, B and I decided that the pecans were the best part.  No one would fault you if you went ALL pecans or half pecans and half other nuts.)
2 egg whites
2 Tbsp water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp salt

Optional (if you want to really make them "pumpkin spice"-y):

pinch of ground allspice
pinch of ground cloves

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.
Spray with non-stick spray (if using parchment paper).
Set aside.

Mix nuts in a large bowl.
Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and water on medium-high speed until still peaks form, about 4-5 minutes.
Add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.
Stir until well combined.

Pour sugar mixture over nuts.
Stir to coat completely.
Spread nuts over the baking sheets.
Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Allow to cool completely.
Enjoy.

Store nuts at room temperature, covered.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Chocolate skulls

These chocolate skulls are spooky and beautiful and totally awesome.  And, they're super easy to make.  Yup, you read that right!  Super easy!!  But most importantly, they're perfect for Halloween!  I love that you can see their spooky facial details!


These would be adorable served alone on a platter, or even popped on top of a cupcake.  The option to add Halloween sprinkles to the cupcakes is a totally legitimate one, too (I'm loving the Sweetapolita Costumes & Cocktails Twinkle Sprinkle Medley sprinkles that are under the chocolates in the pic above with these golden skulls!  I added a few candy eyeballs and bone sprinkles for an even spookier touch).  Or, they could've been filled with any number of delicious treats -- caramel, peanut butter, or Nutella (my original intent).  You could even add them into a Halloween snack mix!

Also, you could mix up the color on the skulls.  I went with gold, but silver, copper, or even pearlescent would work.  I guess it just depends on your Halloween party theme!

Golden Chocolate Skulls

Ingredients:

Chocolate wafers for melting (I used Mercken's, Wilton candy melts would also work), in your choice of color; I used white
Luster dust, in your choice of color; I used African gold

Tools:

Skull chocolate mold
Disposable piping bag
Clean small paintbrush

Directions:

Melt the chocolate wafers in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between, making sure not to burn the chocolate.

Allow the chocolate to cool a little.
Spoon chocolate into the piping bag.
Cut a small hole in the tip so that you can carefully pipe the chocolate

Carefully pipe the chocolate into the cavities in the mold, rather than spooning it in.
Make sure to get the chocolate into all of the crevices, since the skulls are very detailed (eye sockets!  teeth!).
Bang the mold on the counter a few times.
Pop any air bubbles that rise to the top.
Bang the mold on the counter a few more times.
Pop any new air bubbles.
Really make sure that the chocolate gets into every small detail in the mold.

I pop the mold into the fridge for about an hour to ensure that the chocolate hardened.
Remove the chocolates from the mold.
Place them face up (no pun intended!) on a papertowel or sheet of wax paper.

Carefully paint the luster dust onto the chocolate, making sure to get the sides and all the aspects of the face.
Set aside and continue until all skeleton faces are golden (or whatever color you choose).

If you're feeling crazy, you can use a second color of luster dust to detail the chocolates, but that was a little more than I was willing to do at 11 p.m. the night before Halloween.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Yellow cupcakes with strawberry buttercream, and a ghoulish surprise

Do you ever have those times, when you go to the store to buy ingredients you always see there, and that one time that you actually need it, it's not there?  Such was the case for me with freeze dried strawberries.  Had I had the extra time, I would've gone to Trader Joe's, but I digress...Eventually, I got my hands on some just in time for these cupcakes!



But then in honor of Halloween, I went one step further, making a strawberry syrup to drizzle on top. I thought it would look spookily like blood!  You can skip the syrup entirely, and top them instead with a fresh or freeze dried strawberry slice for the other 11 months of the year.


Ghoulish Strawberry Halloween Cupcakes

I started these cupcakes with a half batch of the best yellow cupcakes ever.

Strawberry Buttercream
From Sally's Baking Addiction

Ingredients:

1 cup freeze dried strawberries
1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar
3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Salt, to taste (I didn't feel that it was needed, so I skipped it)

Directions:

Using a blender or food processor, process the freeze-dried strawberries into a fine powder.
You should have about a 1/2 cup.
Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes.
With the mixer on low, add the confectioner's sugar, strawberry powder, cream, and vanilla.
Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes.
If it's too runny or thin, add an additional 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, and if too thick add 1 more Tbsp of cream.
Add a pinch of salt if the frosting is too sweet.
Frost cupcakes as desired.

Top with strawberry sauce (below) and bone sprinkles, if desired.

Strawberry Sauce
From The Pioneer Woman

Ingredients:

2 pounds of strawberries, hulled (I used frozen, unsweetened strawberries, since it's October, and they're super expensive right now)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 lemon, juiced (I didn't have lemon, so I used 1/4 cup water)
A couple drops of red food coloring (optional) -- I used it, since I wanted mine to look "bloody" for these cupcakes

Directions:

Place all of the ingredients (except the food coloring, if using) in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat.
Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly.
Allow the strawberries to cook for a good 5 minutes, or until the strawberries are very soft (FYI, frozen strawberries take longer than 5 minutes).
Turn off the heat ans use a potato masher to completely smush them to a pureed consistency (I used an immersion blender -- super easy!).

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl.
Use a spoon to stir the mixture so the liquid is forced through.
Continue until most of the liquid is in the bowl.
Set aside the pulp, in case you want to add some back into the finished sauce (I skipped this part, since I wanted mine to be super thin for these cupcakes, but would add it in in the future for, say, an ice cream topping).

Skim as much foam off of the sauce as you can.
Pour the skimmed sauce back into the same saucepan and boil again for 3 minutes over medium-high heat.
This is where I added the food coloring.
Skim any more foam that has formed on the surface.
Allow the sauce to cool slightly before pouring it into a pitcher or jar.
Add back a little of the pulp into the sauce if you like the texture, or just leave it plain.

Serve warm over vanilla ice cream, or refrigerate it to thicken and serve it cold.  You can also reheat the sauce after refrigerating.

Or drizzle over strawberry cupcakes for a ghoulish looking treat!

Assemble the cupcakes

Allow the cupcakes to cool.

Pipe the strawberry icing onto the cupcakes.  I used a star-like tip (Ateco 885), since I wanted grooves for the sauce to run through.

Using a piping bag or squeeze bottle, apply the strawberry sauce to the tops of the cupcakes and allow it to run down the grooves in the icing.
Top with small bone sprinkles, if desired.

Additionally, if not Halloween, you can skip the bone sprinkles or the strawberry sauce (but really, why would you?  It's soooo goood!), and instead use a wedge or slice of fresh strawberry, a small strawberry, or a slice of freeze dried strawberry.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Party popcorn

I'm off from work today, and as is true to form, it's raining.  I could be doing laundry, or cleaning for that matter, but I find myself in the kitchen.  The laundry and cleaning, I keep telling myself (and B!), will get done, eventually.  Yes, definitely in the near future...


But I digress.  See, after a quick trip to barre class and a Target run (they opened one in my neighborhood!), I came home and decided to start playing around with some ideas I had been saving.  Part of my Target trip was for Halloween candy because, well, they have such a good variety!  And while I had my eye on some yummy looking snack mix, I decided to start with something else.

Party popcorn.  Or Halloween party popcorn, as I'm calling this.

Here's the thing.  There are three ingredients.  Five, in my recipe, but frankly that's just because I used a combination of three different sprinkles.  Yes, I know.  Issues.  But still....three ingredients.  It comes together in seconds, and then you have the hard part -- waiting for the chocolate to set up.


And while I waited, I made a (half) second batch.  I swapped in orange candy melts for the white CandiQuik in the previous batch.  I thought about making a bunch of different colors, but I stopped at that, since I black candy melts on hand, as well as bright green.  Maybe later, but I thought the black candy melts could get a little messy.


And then?  Well, ladies and gentlemen, I went a little crazy!  I mixed the two batches together.  Yup, you read that right...And ended up with a perfect Halloween Party Popcorn Mix!

Enjoy!

Halloween Party Popcorn
From She Wears Many Hats

Ingredients:

6-7 ounces (by weight) white candy melts, melted (or sub in your favorite color, or chocolate) -- I used vanilla CandiQuik
8-9 cups popped popcorn, lightly salted
Sprinkles or nonpareils in your favorite color (I used Halloween colored nonpareils - I used a black/orange/white premix, a yellow/orange premix, and some additional white ones)

Directions:

In a large bowl or on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, gently mix the melted chocolate with the popcorn.
Don't be afraid to use your hands -- it worked the best for me!

Sprinkle the sprinkles on before the chocolate hardens.
Gently mix again -- don't be afraid to use those hands!! -- before the chocolate hardens.

I went a little crazy and added some more sprinkles and then remixed.  Because sprinkles make everything better, so more sprinkles make everything even better! :-)