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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Toffee-dark chocolate chip cookies

One of my best friends from college is coming to visit this weekend!  It's been a while since she's been in NYC -- she has two kids under 4!! -- and her husband has volunteered to watch the kids over the weekend so that R can come to visit (Thanks, J, for letting me have R for the weekend!!)!

I need to clean my apartment before R gets here -- and I'm running out of time, since I'm working a long day tomorrow and then B is taking me out for graduation.  My apartment is a bit of a mess since I was too busy working on my portfolio and not cleaning over the past month and a half.  But I spent most of today running errands, watching some TV, cleaning a little -- and baking cookies.  Because when I'm stressed and have deadlines and I'm running out of time, and don't feel like cleaning, I bake.  Clearly that makes sense, right?

So I found a recipe for chewy white chocolate chip and dried cranberry cookies - they looked delicious and I decided they'd be great cookies to make.  Why?  Because I wanted to bake for R when she was here, but also prepare a care package to take back to J and the kids, and I figured cookies would transport well on her train ride back to Boston.  And because the combination of white chocolate and dried cranberry is tasty (for instance, these copycat cranberry bliss bars).  And best of all, I had all the ingredients on hand. 

Or so I thought.  I swore I had white chocolate chips, but if I do, I can't find them anywhere.  And those craisins I had been holding onto for a while?  Yeah, they expired in March.  But seeing as I had the butter already warmed to room temperature, I started looking around the kitchen for some other mix-in options.  I'm not a huge fan of nuts in my baked goods (I prefer candying them and serving them as such), so I nixed those.  I did, however, have some toffee pieces and some dark chocolate chips, and after some deliberation -- I thought milk chocolate may be better -- I decided that they would go well together. 

Lastly, I was intrigued by the addition of cornstarch to the cookies.  Apparently they make the cookies "thick and chewy, not flat and flimsy" -- and who doesn't like a chewy cookie?!

Soft Baked Cookies
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate chips)
3/4 cup dried cranberries (I used toffee pieces)
Line an ungreased cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
Set aside.
In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed until fluffy and light in color.
Mix in egg and vanilla.
Scrape down the sides as needed.
On low speed, mix in flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt.
Stir in white chocolate chips & dried cranberries the toppings.
Chill dough (covered) for 30 minutes or up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Drop balls of dough onto cookie sheet.
Bake for 8-9 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges.
Do NOT cook them longer than 9 minutes.
Remove and let cool for 5-10 minutes on the cookie sheet.*
Transfer to cooling rack.
Note: *If cookies do not spread at all, gently press down with a spoon when they come out of the oven. (I didn't see this part when I baked mine, so they look a little domed)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Graduation lollipops

Last year, my friend told me that she didn't think I should bake for my own birthday, but should instead have someone bake for me.  I ended up making 2 different varieties of mini cupcakes -- Kit Kat and S'mores -- for my own birthday celebration.  I enjoyed doing it -- I really did -- and wouldn't have expected anyone else to have done it.  So now that my graduation is approaching, I figured I should make some graduation treats.  And although I'm sure that some would recommend that this be another time that someone else should be making the treats, I disagree.  First of all, I finally have some free time again (thanks to submitting my doctoral portfolio on May 6th!!).  Secondly, I spent an obscene amount of money at the baking store this week, including the purchase of some graduation-themed goodies.  And lastly, I have about 300 graduation celebrations over the next week and a half, and wanted to try to bring some to each event.  OK, so 300 may be an overexaggeration, but I do have a bunch of graduation-related celebrations.

I started off with 4-colored chocolate lollipops, with both milk and dark chocolate graduation caps.  I colored white chocolate yellow and red - yellow for the tassle and red for the ribbon on the diploma. 

Then, after I made the lollipops, I made a few graduation hat and diploma chocolates (not lollipops) that I thought would make some cute cupcake toppers (sorta like the ones I made for my sister's Law School graduation last year) - but I digress.

Since there are no "recipes" for these, I figured I would give you some helpful hints for making detailed, multicolored chocolates (lollipops or otherwise).

Here are my words to the wise:

1. When making colored chocolate, you need to use powdered food coloring.  You can't add any liquid or moisture to the chocolate (ie. liquid or gel food coloring) - it ruins the chocolate.

2. Despite the simplicity of them, my favorite "tools" for details when making chocolates are toothpicks and lollipop sticks (depending on how small the details are).

3. When layering chocolates, I always put the mold in the fridge for a few minutes before adding the next layer.  I find that if the first layer is still wet when I add the next layer, there is a tendency for the color to bleed.  And that's not pretty.

4.  Always put the lollipop stick in at the very end, and roll it so that it is covered in chocolate.  Don't put the stick in and then fill with chocolate.  It's just the way I do it, and it works.

5. After all the cavities in the mold are filled, gently bang it on the countertop a few times to get the air bubbles out.  It makes the finished product look so much nicer!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Banana cupcakes with chocolate icing

My mom and aunts recount eating banana cake with chocolate icing during their childhood.  I hear about it pretty often.  Last year, I made banana-chocolate cake pops with flowers and put them in a little flower pot for a cute Mother's Day centerpiece

This year, my aunt is hosting mother's day.  I asked her if I could bake anything for dessert, and she said she'd get back to me.  When she did, she asked for a nut-less carrot cake (my cousin is allergic to nuts), and I asked if she'd mind cupcakes instead, since I find cupcakes easier to transport than a whole cake.  She was OK with the idea, and so nut-less carrot cake cupcakes were the dessert choice.

But then I thought about it a little and decided that since she loves banana cake with chocolate icing, I would also make that for dessert -- since dessert is for Mother's Day and it is, afterall, her day.  I found a banana cake recipe and used a Nutella icing recipe - MINUS the nutella because of my cousin's allergy, although I would assume that Nutella icing on banana cupcakes might actually be heavenly - that I had made before and was quite well received.  So I made a little change to the menu and informed my aunt, but shhhh, don't tell.....she doesn't know what the change is!

Banana Cupcakes
recipe states that it makes 12, I got 12 full-sized + 8 mini cupcakes


6 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon allspice
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup mashed banana (about 1 1/2 medium bananas - I got that amount from about 1 1/3 large bananas)
1/3 cup sour cream or vanilla yogurt (I used yogurt)
3 tablespoons milk
Line a muffin pan with paper liners.
Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, and salt.
Add gradually to the butter mixture.
Add the mashed banana, sour cream (or yogurt), and milk.
Mix until everything is combined (don't over-mix).

Divide batter amongst 12 lined muffin cups.
Bake for 15-18 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool completely before frosting.
Chocolate Cloud Icing
(check out the Nutella version here)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but cool
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup premium bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted and slightly cooled
1 tablespoon (15 ml) milk
pinch of salt
In a bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter and beat on low speed for about 1 minute.
Add vanilla, and beat on low speed until well combined.
Add the melted and slightly cooled chocolate and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes).
Add the milk and pinch of salt, and beat on med-high speed for another minute.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Triple ginger cookies

I love ginger.  All things ginger.  Well, all except for that funky pink pickled ginger that they serve with sushi.  So when I saw this recipe on Pinterest, I knew I had to make these cookies.  It's amazing that I waited this long, though I originally saw it over 6 months ago!

***Before I talk more about these cookies, I owe you all an explanation and apology, especially those of you who do not follow the JulieBakes Facebook Page.  About three years ago, before I even started this blog, I went back to school.  Again.  For degree #4.  The culmination of my doctorate was a portfolio - a 3" binder full of coursework and cases from the previous 3 years.  Or as I like to say, full of "blood, sweat, tears, stress, new friends, a few nervous breakdowns....oh, and some school work."  Anyway, that portfolio was due a few days ago.  I handed it in Monday....and then rushed to work.  The past 3+ days since I handed it in were a whirlwind.  Work then trivia (our team won!), then work on Tuesday, followed by a train ride to the 'burbs to my parents, a dentist appointment early Wednesday morning, and then spending the day with my mom on Wednesday including a celebratory lunch complete with a glass of prosecco and a nearly two hour nap for me (which comes nowhere near making up for the sleep I lost over the past few weeks while assembling my portfolio), then a train ride back to the city, and then making the dough for these awesome cookies!***

Now, back to the cookies.  These cookies have three different types of ginger - freshly grated, ground, and crystallized - and none of the funky pink stuff.  While running errands today to get the ingredients I need to make B some authentic homemade Pad Thai (I got the recipe from the cooking class I took when I was in Thailand), I even picked up a giant hunk of fresh ginger for these cookies at the Asian market.  I was convinced I had the rest of the ingredients at home, except when it came to making the dough, I realized I had used up my molasses.  In a pinch and with the grocery store across the street already closed, I needed a suitable substitute.  I had some dark corn syrup, so I used that -- but knowing that corn syrup is way sweeter than molasses, I used 1/3 cup of dark corn syrup (instead of 1/2 cup molasses) and upped the freshly grated ginger by a 1/2 teaspoon.  The only unfortunate other issue?  When I measured my crystallized ginger, I was 1/4 cup short.  Sad :-(.  But next time I make these cookies - and there will be a next time - I will be sure to use the proper amount of crystallized ginger....but I might keep my other substitutions the same.

Triple Ginger Crinkles - The Ultimate Ginger Cookies
From Will Cook for Friends


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/8th tsp. ground cloves
1/8th tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped fine* (I only had 1/2 cup on hand, but will be sure to use the full amount next time)
1 stick (4oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses (I ended up using the dark corn syrup I had on hand - see above - but decreased the amount to 1/3 cup)
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger* (I used a little bit extra - about 2 1/2 tsp - to counteract the added sweetness of the corn syrup, but since I love the taste of ginger, I might use that much in the future)
1/4-1/2 cup granulated sugar, for rolling

As per the original recipe, * Crystallized ginger can be chilled in the freezer to make chopping easier. Fresh ginger can be stored in the freezer for easier peeling and grating.


Sift together the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt.
Add in the chopped crystallized ginger, breaking up any clumps.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of your mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and fresh ginger.
Pour in the molasses (or in my case, the corn syrup) and beat well.

Mix in the dry ingredients until just combined.
The mixture should be thick and somewhat sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, fold the plastic over itself, and pat into a 1 inch thick disc.
Wrap it up and refrigerate until firm (at least 1-2 hours, or up to a few days).

Tear or break the dough into about 20 equal chunks, and roll each into a ball between your palms.
Roll each ball in granulated sugar, and return to the fridge to keep cool (rolled cookies can be stored in the fridge, or frozen in an airtight container, for future baking).

Preheat oven to 325F. 
Place the chilled balls of dough onto a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet, spacing them at least 1.5 inches apart.
Bake on the middle rack for 10-12 minutes, or until the surface begins to crack - for a crispier cookie, bake a few minutes longer (I like chewy cookies, personally, so I skipped the extra time).
Let the cookies cool 3-4 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Once completely cool, cookies can be stored in a baggie or airtight container for several days, or frozen...but they won't last that long.