Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chocolate Gravy

Growing up in my family... the weekend meant one thing: A BIG BREAKFAST. Every Saturday and Sunday morning... my mom fixed the works for breakfast. Biscuits and gravy (both from scratch, of course), eggs, sausage, and bacon. And since I was a snot-nosed kid, I usually poured myself a bowl of cornflakes for my breakfast. I had no idea what I was missing.

Sometimes, though... when we had company or if my mom was craving it (and always during the week when us kids were out for snow) my mom would make chocolate gravy.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking what everyone I've ever told about Chocolate Gravy thinks.... chocolate? in gravy? Ewwww... gross.

But, it's not that. It's essentially chocolate syrup/ganache that is thinned out a bit with some milk to be close to the consistency of a gravy. Hence the name Chocolate Gravy.

Chocolate gravy poured over a hot biscuit is like nothing you've ever had before, I assure you. It's heaven. The gravy soaks into the biscuit and I think it actually brings out the flavor of the biscuit more. And when the biscuits have a nice crispy edge to them, you get a wonderful chocolatey crunch.

Now, chocolate gravy is reserved for Christmas morning, when the family tradition of a big breakfast is brought back to life. This year, I attempted to learn how to make it... but like any recipe of my mom's, it's always... "a little of this... a lot of that..." no exact measurements (which is also why the chocolate gravy is never the same twice). But, I did learn a little more about it... My maternal grandma used to make the chocolate gravy without vanilla or butter. I guess the tendency was to put the butter on your biscuit and then pour the gravy over it. My mom has always put butter and vanilla in her chocolate gravy and I think that's probably the best way to do it...

Mom's Chocolate Gravy

Again, these are not exact measurements, but they're fairly close. In the past, we've thrown some chocolate chips in to melt into the gravy to make it thicker and extra rich... but that almost tastes too gourmet (not enough like I remembered from my childhood). But if you want an uber chocolatey gravy, I'd suggest trying that.

1 tbsp flour
3/4 cup sugar
4-5 tbsp of cocoa
Pinch of salt
2 cups of milk (depending on how thick you want yout gravy, maybe less)
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla

Put all the dry ingredients into a saucepan on the stove. Gradually add in your milk, a little at a time over medium heat. Whisking/stirring to keep the lumps to a medium. Cook over medium heat till mixture comes together and thickens a little. (If it thickens too much, just pour a little more milk in).

After cooking for a few minutes and the gravy is the consistency you want, take off the stove and stir in your butter till it melts and the vanilla.

Spoon over biscuits.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TWD: Tall & Creamy Cheesecake

Cheesecake is hands down one of my favorite desserts. Not only are cheesecakes delicious... but they're so simple and inexpensive to make and yet... when you make one from scratch and take it somewhere... people act like you're a baking genius. Seriously... you want to make something easy, cheap, and something that can be done ahead of time that will knock people's socks off?? Cheesecake is your answer.

I was excited that Anne of Anne Strawberry chose Dorie's Basic cheesecake recipe Tall and Creamy Cheesecake for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, because I love trying out new recipes.

My previous go-to recipe for Cheesecake was a Tyler Florence recipe. It's foolproof. I've made it 100 times... with splenda, with sugar, with a water bath, without a waterbath. Seriously folks you can't mess this cheesecake up. It's light and fluffy with a little tang from the sour cream and lemon and it's white and crack-proof on top. A gorgeous, delicious cheesecake.

But, move over Tyler... there's a new cheesecake in town. Dorie's cheesecake is texturally my favorite cheesecake. It's cheesecake how I like it... soft and creamy, but not gooey (as I find cheesecake factory's cheesecakes to be). I think after making a few cheesecakes now... that I prefer cheesecakes with more heavy cream than sour cream. I think the cream is what makes for a browned top, but I don't mind that. I'll take flavor over looks any day. This recipe calls for both, but you can choose to omit one and use entirely the other, or a mixture of sour cream and cream. I used a mixture. Some sour cream and some heavy cream.

This cheesecake is dynamite and will definitely be my cheesecake recipe from now on.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TWD: Butterscotch Pudding

Butterscotch. Let me just start off by telling you how much I love butterscotch. I always pick out the butterscotch first in an assortment of hard candies. I love the sweet and the buttery mixed together. It really is a match made in heaven.

So, to say I was excited about making Butterscotch Pudding for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, is a bit of an understatement. I had visions of using this pudding in a tart shell for a Butterscotch Pudding Tart. Because... honestly... how good does that sound??

I was over at my parents house on Saturday morning and decided to rummage around their liquor cabinet (because, they seriously have anything and everything you would need in terms of liquor... its like going to a free liquor store). I knew my dad would have some Johnny Walker Black (which... I know.. is blended whiskey or whatever... semantics) until I saw this little jewel...


Glenfiddich 15 year reserve SINGLE MALT. Exactly what I was looking for! Just for kicks I poured my mom and I out some in a little glass, because honestly, I'd never had scotch before. Nevermind that it was like 10:30 in the morning. First, I smelled it and about gagged. And then I took a sip and seriously thought my tongue was going to burn off and that I would die choking on it. It was bad. My mom took a sip and I expected her response to be the same... I waited patiently looking at her, wanting her to join in the disgust for scotch with me... But she threw the glass back and after her non-chalant reaction I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd stuck her tongue down in the glass and licked it. I mean. Jeez... she pounded that scotch like nobody's business. Finally she said... "Hmm... would be better with a little water."

For those of you keeping score that's...

Mom: 1

Amy: 0

In the "who's a better drunk category. "

I didn't let the taste of the scotch deter me... I was determined that this was going to be a kick ass pudding. I got home and remembering how quick on your feet you have to be when making pudding, I laid out all my ingredients like I was on Emeril or something. I made only a half batch... because I was planning on just making two little adorable butterscotch pudding tarts.


The recipe came together quickly. I was glad I was prepared, because it made things go soooo much smoother. But, as it was coming together I noticed the pale, ashy, disgusting color that it was becoming and I was hoping that the vanilla and scotch would help fix that a bit.
It didn't and I thought... well who cares, I'll just cover the top in whipped cream. I decided to give the pudding a taste before I whipped up my tarts....
One word describes this pudding: Scotch. It should be called Scotch pudding. I mean... there is no buttery-ness whatsoever. But, if you love scotch... you'd freaking love this pudding. So... make this for your Mom (in my case, who apparently doesn't mind the taste of scotch) or your cirrhosis plagued uncle.
Thanks to Donna of Spatulas, Corkscrews & Suitcases (Cute blog name!) for picking out this recipe. Maybe once I "acquire" my scotch palate, I'll be into this pudding. Until then, I guess I'll stick to my artificial butterscotch flavors.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Nigella's Banana Bread (err... Muffins)

Last year for Christmas, my dear friend April bought me How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. Clearly... she knows me well. I mean, if there is anything in this world that I want to be... it is definitely a domestic goddess. And if there is anything in this world that I am NOT, it's definitely a domestic goddess. So, there ya go. Perfect gift.

So, I've had this cookbook for over a year (she gave me my present early) and I have YET to make something from it. I've probably read the whole thing, including most of the recipes... and while I enjoy reading the intros to the recipes and the way Nigella describes the food, nothing has jumped out at me screaming: MAKE ME NOW. Which, is a shame, because... I NEED to become a domestic goddess. I mean... I'm a single 28 year old girl. When I say I NEED to become a domestic goddess, I'm not kidding. I need a man, folks. And everyone knows... Domestic Goddessdom= Snagging a Dude.

Finally, last night with three big bananas at the peak of the ripeness, I decided to start my quest to become that domestic goddess.

I cracked open the book and found this recipe for banana bread, that I decided to make into muffins instead. I was a little surprised that the recipe didn't include instructions for myself... like, I was expecting it to say...

First, go into your wardrobe and pick out the tightest, deepest v-neck sweater that you have. Put it on. Next, curl your hair with a curling iron, so that you have soft, bouncy curls. Then put on extra mascara and black eyeliner and a little bit of a pale pink lipstick. Put on your sexiest, highest heels and pour yourself a glass of wine. Now you are ready to bake.

But, it didn't. So, I put on my apron, stayed in my sweatpants and tshirt, and pulled my hair back and got to work. I know, very non-domestic goddessy of me.

Anyway, I'm ALWAYS finagling with quick bread recipes. Trying to make them healthier and lighter (I know... AGAIN very non-domestic goddessy of me... Sheesh. Maybe I'm not cut out for this domestic goddess jazz). And this recipe was no different. I did some butter and sugar substitutions, added some pumpkin I'm trying to use up for some extra nutrients and moisture and voila... Heathy-ish Banana Muffins.

They turned out well... a good banana flavor and very moist. Next time, I'll add nuts and wear some stilettos.

Nigella's Banana Bread (muffins)
adapted from How to Become a Domestic Goddess

So, this is how I made the recipe. So, there are a few substitions and changes. She also added boozy raisins to her batter, but I opted out of that.

Make sure to cook these muffins through. With all the extra fruit they are VERY moist and therefore aren't delicious right out of the oven. They are kind of gooey at first and need to set and cool a good bit. Once they do, though, they are a really good, easy, healthy muffin recipe. And if you want to completely stray from the the domestic goddess route, then try some whole wheat flour, instead of all white. (I know, shameful!).

1 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup splenda
2 large eggs
3 medium-large, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract

Grease a muffin tin.

Preheat the oven to 325F and get started on the rest.

Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium sized bowl and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine well.

In a large bowl, mix the melted butter, applesauce and sugars and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas and pumpkin. Then, with your spoon, stir in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. Pour into muffin tin. They don't rise much, so I filled them pretty much to the top and bake in the middle of the oven for about a 45 minutes (but check after 30). When it's ready, an inserted toothpick or fine skewer should come out cleanish. Leave in the pan on a rack to cool.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Spicy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

So, yesterday I was telling you about the buttery jam cookies that no one wanted at the party, right? Well, today, I'm going to tell you about the star of the party.

Who would have thought? An oatmeal raisin cookie would outshine... cheesecake, jam cookies, and brownies? That's how damn tasty this recipe is. It's everything that you expect an oatmeal raisin cookie to be... chewy with subtle hints of spice. Sturdy in texture, but complex in flavor. This is the oatmeal cookie that can go mano-e-mano against a chocolate chip cookie. Yes, you heard me.... mano-e-mano. It's that good.

These cookies were so good that people were shoving them in their pockets to take home with them. Thankfully, my mom had some cookie tins with these and other cookies in them to give to guests to take home, so that the cookies didn't have to endure the lint and used kleenex lining the bottoms of their coat pockets. This is an oatmeal cookie recipe that I'll whip up on a whim. I mean... normally that's reserved only for peanut butter cookies or chocolate chip cookies... but step aside old favorites... there's a new cookie in town...
Spicy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Originally Beth's Spicy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

The mix of shortening and butter is what gives this cookie it's chew... I know, a lot of people don't like using shortening (although I could care less), but it's important for the chewiness. So, if you like chewy cookies, definitely follow this recipe verbatim.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup butter flavored shortening
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, butter flavored shortening, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Stir in the oats and raisins. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes until light and golden. Do not overbake. Let them cool for 2 minutes before removing from cookie sheets to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

Yield: 3 Dozen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TWD: Buttery Jam Cookies

Continuing on with the Smorgasboard (I know I didnt spell that right) of holiday cookies... Heather of Randomosity and the Girl chose Buttery Jam Cookies for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie. And Heather, I'm right there with you... how could you go wrong with a recipe called... Buttery Jam Cookies?

These cookies are super moist and tender and very cakey. Not really the consistency of your regular ole cookie. I added cherry preserves and since these were going to be on a cookie tray at a Christmas Party, I festive-ed them up with little maraschino cherries on top.

These cookies were good, but not as good as I had hoped. They honestly didn't have much flavor at all. I added additional cherry preserves to the recipe, as I just didn't think the amount called for in the recipe would be enough for my cherry-loving self, but they didn't have an overwhelming cherry flavor. Or, even a slight cherry flavor.

I rolled and flattened my cookies out with wet hands when putting them on my cookie sheet, because I had heard other TWDers saying that they ended up looking exactly how you placed them on the cookie sheet... and I wanted a smooth looking cookie, not a biscuity, sconey cookie.

Sadly, no one touched these cookies on the cookie tray. I thought maybe they were a little too retro-y looking with the maraschino cherry and all.

All-in-all not a bad cookie at all... but nothing to write home about. Not buttery or jam-y. Hmph. Oh well...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Brown Sugar Cookies

There comes a point in your 28 years of life that you start to think that you've tried every imaginable type of cookie. I mean... especially if you've got a sweet tooth like mine. Obviously there are going to be variations of cookies that I haven't tried, but I didn't really expect to come across a flavor profile in a cookie that seemed different to me. So, I was VERY surprised when I bit into one of these cookies...

Brown Sugar Cookies.

See... I know exactly what you're thinking. You're thinking that you already know how these cookies taste without even tasting them. You can imagine in your head what a brown sugar cookie would taste like, right???

Well, you're wrong. Because this cookie is deceptively titled. You see... it should be called...

Out of this world browned butter brown sugar cookie.

BROWNED BUTTER. OH MY GOD WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE? Sweet, sweet browned butter. Wow. I mean, sure I'd heard of browned butter pasta sauces and whatnot, but browned butter in a cookie. GENIUS. I'm sorry. I don't mean to keep shouting at you... but these cookies are so DAMN good.

Originally, I think this is a Cook's Illustrated Recipe... and bless their hearts for thinking of putting browned butter and brown sugar into a cookie. These cookies are rich and interesting without being pretentious. Texturally, they're what you'd expect from a brown sugar cookie... molassey and chewy with crispy edges. But the flavor... the flavor is so deep. I feel like it could be described like a wine... it starts off sweet and then finishes with a deep, rich butter flavor that lingers on your palate. Awesomeness. I will definitely make these again and you should try them, too.

I found the recipe here

But, because I love them so much... I'm reposting the recipe for you (and me)

Brown Sugar Cookies
Makes 2 Dozen Cookies
from Cook's Illustrated

Here's a tip on browning the butter... brown it in a skillet. I first tried in a saucepan and it was taking forever. Transferred it to a skillet and voile! Way quicker. But, be careful not to burn the butter!

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (about 1 3/4 ounces)
2 cups packed dark brown sugar (14 ounces)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Heat 10 tablespoons of the butter in a pan over medium-high heat until melted. Continue to cook the butter until it is browned a dark golden color and smells nutty, about 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer the browned butter to a bowl and stir the rest of the butter into the hot butter until it melts- let this rest for 15 min. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a baking dish, mix granulated sugar and a ¼ cup of the brown sugar until combined well; set this mixture aside to roll dough balls in. Mix flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl. Add 1 ¾ cup brown sugar and salt to cooled butter and mix until there are no lumps. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla to butter mixture and mix well, then add flour and mix until just combined. Roll dough into balls about 1 ½ inches in diameter, and roll balls in brown sugar and white sugar mixture. Place balls about 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets.

Bake sheets one at a time until cookies are puffy and lightly browned, about 12- 14 minutes. (It says the cookies will look slightly raw between some of the cracks and seem underdone, but be careful not to overbake.) Cool on sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Masterpiece White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

There is a company here in Nashville called The Christie Cookie. They have three basic cookie recipes: Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, and White Chocolate Macadamia. Now, let me just state for the record that their White Chocolate Macadamia nut cookie is sublime. It's buttery, and soft, and the white chocolate is sweet and the nuts crunchy. It's like the white chocolate macadamia nut cookie at it's very best. But... it still has that "mass production" type of feel to it. You know what I mean? Like, it's delicious... but you taste it and can tell it's not homemade.

Anyway... any white chocolate macadamia nut cookie that I eat automatically gets compared to the Christie Cookie.

This recipe is from Anna over at Cookie Madness and this is the second time I've made this cookie. It is delicious. It has the addition of Baileys Liquor in it... and while you can't really pinpoint that flavor in the end result, it does give the cookies an additional depth of flavor. These cookies bake up thick and sturdy and are very easy to make.

My mom invited me over this past weekend for a Cookie Baking Bonanza and this was one of the recipes we made. In comparison to the Christie Cookie... these are a little different. These are not as soft and less buttery. I think sometime, I'll try this recipe with some butter flavored shortening added (in place of some of the butter) and add some toffee chips to the batter to see if I can get the consistency, crumb, and flavor profile of the Christie Cookie. Regardless, if you're looking for an awesome white chocolate chip cookie recipe... this should be your starting (and ending!) point.

Recipe at Anna's Blog for Masterpiece White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TWD: Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookies

Well... not my Grandma's. More like Dorie's Grandma and Dorie's Husband's Grandma.

Semantics aside, this Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was chosen by Ulrike of Kuchenlatein. Ulrike has a lovely blog and as I'm writing this post, it finally occured to me to try to figure out what the heck Kuchenlatein means... and all I can find in google are kitchen latin or dog latin? Oh well... foreign languages were never my strong suit.

Truth be told... I'm not much of a sugar cookie girl. Particularly not the type of sugar cookies that get decorated, because they always seem hard and flavorless and merely vehicles for decoration. And folks, I take taste over appearance ANY day.

So, when this recipe was announced I was like... oh great.... another opportunity for me to take something that is supposed to be decorated and dolled up and turn it into something very ugly and tasteless. Hooray.

The cookie itself wasn't bad. But... again... it's a crunchy-ish, plain cookie that needs an eye for detail to pretty it up. Better eyes than I have, that is...

Anyway... I did make some stars and christmas trees and decorated them with some food coloring added to some melted white chocolate chips... so, I can at least say my cookies are festive! Check out Ulrike's blog for the recipe!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

TWD: Linzer Sables

Before I signed up for Tuesdays with Dorie, I'd never heard of a linzer sable. I mean... I'd be apt to call these cookies Jam Sandwich cookies or something equally white trashy. I'm kind of an advocate of the name of something telling you what it's going to taste like. Because, if I tell my brother, Mike... "These are Linzer Sable Cookies" he's going to look at me with a snarl and push the plate aside with a... "ummm... no thanks. Where's the chocolate pie?" So, while it sounds cool to say... "Linzer Sables" I ended up making these for thanksgiving and just told everyone... "These are Chocolate Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies." Cause that's what mine were.

I used hazelnuts for the nut in the dough and for the filling I ended up using a crunchy chocolate hazelnut spread (think... crunchy nutella. You can buy it at world market). I think all the people who actually tried the cookies, liked them. But honestly, they were a little out of the ordinary looking on our thanksgiving dessert buffet. The smell of cinnamon and hazelnuts was intoxicating and I found the dough to be very easy to work with. I ended up using a 2 inch round shot glass for the cookie cutter and the end of a decorating tip (per Dorie's suggestion) for the center. Usually, I'm not patient enough for fussy looking cookies like these. But these weren't fussy at all. They just look that way!

Next time, I will use jam in the center though. I think that the cinnamon would go better with a nice jam inside... and it would look prettier to have a glistening red or pink showing through the center instead of the dark brown. The most surprising thing to me about these cookies was that they weren't hard and crunchy. I expected them to be, but they actually turned out firm, yet soft. Not crumbly like a shortbread (although, I think technically a sable is supposed to be like a shortbread, yes?), but soft. When you bit into them, they didnt break into a million pieces like I feared they would.

Thanks to Noskos of Living the Life for choosing this recipe.

Oh and sorry for the crappy photos. I had to photograph the cookies at night in bad lighting. Ugh.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

TWD: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

First let me just preface this post by saying... I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie. Like, at all. But Pecan Pie is one of my absolute favorite things in this world. It's right up there with Cherry Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Daniel Craig, Snickers, ASICS Running Shoes, and Aveda Black Malva Conditoner. I admit it. I have a love affair with Pecan Pie. (and for the record in my family... it's pecahn not pee-can pie).

Ahhhh... pecan pie, how do I love thee? Let me count thy ways... I love your sweetness, your smooth texture and crunchy top. And I'm a pecan pie purist. I'm not a big fan of throwing in chocolate chips to make a derby pie, or anything crazy like that. I don't even want ice cream or whipped cream on top of my pecan pie. Just give me the pie plate and a fork and I'm good to go.

This week, (errr... last week? we were allowed the opportunity to post late so that we could have a fresh pie for thanksgiving) for Tuesdays with Dorie Vibi of La Casserole Carree (click there for the recipe and click "English" in the Google Toolbar to the right) chose Dorie's Thanksgiving Twofer Pie. By Twofer, she means pumpkin and pecan pie all rolled into one.

At first I was like.. holy jeez, I have to destroy my beloved pecan pie by putting pumpkin in it? But the closer it got to Thanksgiving... the more I started to think that I might just actually like this pie. I mean, I have recently acquired a love for the spices in pumpkin flavored dishes and I thought that the pecan pie topping might just win me over to the pumpkin pie side.

I used Dorie's Pie Crust Recipe again (I accidently made the double crust for a peach galette awhile back and so I had a single crust already in the freezer, woo hoo) and folks, let me just say... I am the WORST pie crimper as well as the worst blind baker. For whatever reason this time my pie crust shrunk like wool in the dryer and and was just pooling butter in the bottom. But, whatever, I perserved and the crust turned out fine. Ugly, but fine.

Honestly, I wanted to love this pie. But, I didn't. It wasn't sweet enough for me. It was kind of like a light pumpkin pie with pecans thrown in. I felt like it didn't resemble a pecan pie at all. I'm glad I tried it though... and unfortunately... with so many other desserts on our thanksgiving buffett (including 2 pecan pies) I think there were only a couple of slices taken out of this pie. Oh well, at least I got to take it home and photograph it properly for my blog...
I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chocolate Guinness Cake with Baileys Frosting

Friday I was able to surprise my friend April with a birthday cake! I went down to Memphis to spend friday night with her and her husband to celebrate her birthday!

Now, April and I... we are like two peas in a pod. All the things I love... she loves.

Running? Yes
Beer? Yes
Wine? Yes
Bowling? Yes
Tailgating? Yes
Chocolate? Yes
Beer? Yes, again
Being silly? Yes
Taking silly photos? Yes
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Yes
Pizza? Yes
Chocolate? YES!

So, even though I wasn't able to ask her what her preference for her Birthday Dessert was... I kind of had a good idea of what I wanted to make her. And it included two of the things in that list.

Chocolate and Beer, of course! Awhile back, I had made mini cake of this recipe and I remembered that April had left a comment on that post about how good the cake looked. So, I decided to make the full cake version.

Thanks for being such a great friend, April. Happy Birthday and I hope that you enjoyed your cake!!

Last Year for April's Birthday? German Chocolate Pie

Chocolate Guinness Cake with Bailey's Frosting
Original recipe here. Recipe with my changes listed below.
This cake is very moist and easy. The only change I would make next time... is to eliminate the salt. The beer has enough salt on it's own. I would also make 1.5x the frosting. I felt like there was enough when I was icing the cake, but when I was actually eating it, I would have liked a little more.

Ingredients
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt (eliminate if using Guinness)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup Guinness Beer
Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Bailey's Chocolate Frosting:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Baileys Irish Creme
Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip!
Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake.

Ummm... let's see... what to say, what to say...

I could sit here and write and write and tell you just how damn delicious this cheesecake is. I mean, I could mention that the gingersnaps meld into a chewy, moist lightly spiced crust that compliments the creaminess of the cheesecake perfectly. I could also say that the addition of the fried apples overcame my fear of being a textural no-no and turned into little bites of apple-y goodness dotted throughout the cake. Maybe I'd also talk a little about the sweetness and homey-ness that the cake imparts due to the apple cider, cinnamon, and the brown sugar added to the batter. Oh yeah, I wouldn't want to forget the silky smooth texture that glides over your tongue from the sour cream, cream cheese, and heavy cream in the recipe.

Yeah, I could say all those things.

Or I could just say...

GET OFF YOUR ASS AND MAKE THIS CHEESECAKE IMMEDIATELY.

or

THIS CHEESECAKE IS THE BEST CHEESECAKE, EVER.

or maybe even

WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS. SERIOUSLY. MAKE NOW.

I've made a lot of cheesecakes folks... But this one is amazing.

This was a Tuesdays with Dorie recipe that was completed the week before I joined. Jaime of Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats chose this one. I'm so glad I went back and decided to catch up on this recipe sooner rather than later.

Make it, you won't be sorry.
Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake
from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

This cheesecake is so freaking good. The only thing different that I might do next time, is make 1.5 of the crust, just a personal preference, but I prefer to have more of the crust go up the sides of my cheesecake, as written in the recipe you really only get a layer for the bottom of the crust.

I cut my apples wayyyyy thinner than Dorie tells you. I basically cut mine into thinnish slices, because I was really nervous about the texture being too weird in the cheesecake. I think it turned out great this way and will do it next time, too. I also didn't add all my apples (I used 3 huge fuji's) to the cheesecake, I just placed one layer of the thin apples on the cheesecake and ended up with a crap load of fried apples left over. Next time, I'll just slice up an apple and a half or so.

Also, my bowl of batter wasn't placed on my scale right, and I think I ended up adding as much as a 1/4 cup of MORE of brown sugar than the recipe called for... it turned out sweet, but not crazy sweet, so next time, I might go ahead and intentionally add a couple extra tablespoons of brown sugar to the batter.

I can never find apple cider. Arg! So, as usual when a recipe calls for it... I just used 100% apple juice. No problems.


I skipped the apple jelly and confectioners sugar. It was awesome enough without it.


For the Crust:
30 gingersnaps (or a scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples:
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling:
1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp apple cider
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust:
Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.

Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they'll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples:
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.


Getting Ready to Bake:
Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center--if the center shimmies, that's just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan's latch and release and remove the sides

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TWD: Kugelhopf

Some things in life are worth 5+ hours of your time. This cake... is not one of them. I mean, for chrissakes, I ran a marathon this weekend in less time than it took for this damn cake to be prepared and finished.

Yolanda The All Purpose Girl, chose this recipe for Tuesdays With Dorie and bless her heart... but she picked a doozy. I mean, I dont know... maybe it's just me... maybe I'm the only one who felt like there was a crap-load of effort put into this crummy cake/bread.

Okay, okay... enough whining... I'm just grouchy cause I didn't read the recipe till late on Sunday and it was just so freaking time consuming. Ugh. (Apparently I'm not a yeast bread kind of gal).

I halved the recipe and put it in heart shaped, mini-muffin cups since I don't own a Kugelhopf pan or even a bundt pan. And I can assure you, I will NEVER own a kugelhopf pan. (Even though its a kick ass word to say!). I also omitted the raisins/currants and added nutmeg (I know, I'm shocked, too) to the dough. And since I had little mini muffins... I dunked the kugelhopf muffins into butter and then rolled them around in cinnamon sugar... and even that couldn't really save them. Oh well.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Caramel Butter Bars

"It happens sometimes... friends come in and out of our lives like busboys in a restaurant."
--Gordie from Stand By Me

I've never been the type to have lots of friends. Actually, I find the idea of having lots of friends simultaneously to be kind of stressful. I mean... how do people have the time to spread themselves around to lots of different friends? I suspect the people who do, are less of the homebody type than I am.

I've always had a few close friends. My first best friend was Lisa McBroom. We met in the daycare at the fitness center that our mom's belonged to. We were lucky enough to be put into the same kindergarten class and our friendship continued to grow through the next few years. Her family eventually moved and I eventually went through a large group of close girl friends and guy friends through the years. But only a handful remain. And these are the friends that I consider my true blue, tested and weathered best friends: Stephanie, April, Jeff, Sara, and Leigh. These are my peeps. These are the friends who share my awesome times and my not so awesome times. The people I trust and love like family.

But you know what sucks? Their geography... Steph's in Portland, April's in Memphis, Jeff's in Baltimore, Sara's in Louisville, and Leigh's in Columbia, SC. I mean... bloody hell! Do you know how shitty it is to have a network of such amazing friends... but not have the ability to call any of them up and be like.. "yo, let's grab a burrito... or go to a movie... or get drunk tonight, cause there's nothing better to do?" Yeah. Let me tell you... it sucks.

But... a couple of weekends ago... that changed! Just the other night I was able to text my friend Sara and be like.. "what up? Let's grab dinner." and she called back (cause, girls not a texter... I'm working on her though... give me some time) and we went to dinner, because she moved to Nashville!!!! And not only did she move to Nashville, she's living like 2 miles away from me! Woop Woop!

It's great to have her here! And to welcome her, I wanted to bake her something yummy.

Now, I know Sara REALLY well. And I know that her favorite candy bar is the Milky Way. So, I definitely wanted to make her something that was very caramely and gooey and yummy.

This recipe immediately popped out at me. It came together really easily and turned out pretty tasty. But... honestly... it needs chocolate. I mean, it REALLY needs chocolate. It's like eating just the peanut butter side of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's good, but it's blatantly missing it's rightful partner. So, I will make this again, but I will sprinkly chocolate chips over the caramel layer.
The Stand By Me quote I referenced above is true... some people do come in and out of lives like busboys... but if you're lucky like me... you'll have a few really true friends that stick with you forever. (And hopefully you'll eventually succeed in convincing them all to move to Nashville to be close to you, cause you're selfish like that. 1 down, 4 to go...) :)
Gooey Caramel Butter Bars
From Sticky Chewy Messy Gooey, by Jill O’Connor
These bars are delicious and I consider the crust to be an awesome base for other fillings. Mainly fillings that have chocolate in them. So, if you're making these bars.... I suggest throwing in some chocolate chips, some heath toffee bits, or something to add to the salty, chewiness of the caramel.

For the Crust:
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Filling:
1 bag (14 ounces) caramel candies (about 50 individual caramels), unwrapped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
Pinch of salt
1 cup pecans or walnuts (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
Directions:

To make the crust: in a large bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Using an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until combined. Sift the flour into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth, soft dough forms.
Spray a 9 by 13 inch baking pan lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. Pat the remaining dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Bake until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
While the bottom crust is baking and remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling: Place the unwrapped caramels in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the cream, vanilla, rum (if using), and salt. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove from the microwave and stir until smooth. If caramels are not completely melted, microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until smooth.

Sprinkle the nuts (if using) over the bottom crust. Pour the caramel filling over the nuts, using a small metal spatula to nudge the filling evenly over the crust. Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it even over the caramel. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubble and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Use a sharp knife to cut the bars evenly into 15 large squares. Remove the bars from the pan with a metal spatula and, if desired, cut in half on the diagonal to form 30 triangular bars. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

The bars will keep, covered tightly at room temperature, for about 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkin Bread

Ok, so I realize... I've become one of those bloggers that I used to hate. I am posting two pumpkin recipes in the span of 8 days. Sue me.

But, it turns out... that pumpkin, nutmeg, etc... well, they aren't the nasty tasting foods that I thought they were. My bad.

I had a half can of pumpkin puree hanging out in my fridge leftover from last week'sTuesdays with Dorie recipe and I asked my friend Steph for her favorite pumpkin bread recipe.

She sent me to a link from Allrecipes.com that seriously had like a zillion awesome reviews. This is some bread, apparently.

I made some changes to make it a wee bit healthier. I plugged the changes into a nutrition calculator and came up with 191 calories (50 from fat) per serving. Those changes were:

Halved the oil with unsweetened applesauce
Used Splenda for 1/3 of the sugar in the recipe.

It turned out great with those changes. Sweet and moist (just how I like my bread!). I will be trying this recipe again and I might try the 89 calorie/serving version: all splenda and all applesauce. If I do, I'll let you know how it turns out.

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread.




Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes

Now, here's a Tuesdays with Dorie recipe that I can get behind. Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Glaze chosen by Clara of I heart food 4 thought. Clara suggested that we might all decorate these cupcakes for halloween! Which is a GREAT idea. But... I had an even better idea...
With their rich, dark color, they were perfect for a Gamecock Tailgate! Check. It. Out. Our sweet ass tailgate set-up for the South Carolina vs. Ole Miss game (wayyy back on Oct. 4th). My intention was to decorate these cupcakes with South Carolina themed decorations... but, I didn't have the time. (It's probably for the best though... my decorating skills SUCK).

Instead of the glaze that Dorie had in the book, I used some leftover Dark Chocolate Frosting that I had in the freezer to decorate with.

These cupcakes are great! I find it very hard to mess up Chocolate cake recipes (don't even talk to me about any kind of vanilla or butter cake recipe... they ALWAYS jack up for me). They are flavorful and tender... moist and delicious!

Check out Clara's blog for the recipe!

Here is the recipe that I used for the frosting:

Especially Dark Chocolate Frosting
(from the back of the Special Dark Hershey's cocoa box)

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup Special Dark Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk (might need more)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to a spreading consistency. Add small amount of additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups of frosting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

BFB: Scotcheroos

Okay, so the best thing about this recipe? Is that it has reawakened my absolute love and devotion to rice krispies. Since I bought the first box of rice krispies last thursday night, to this morning when I polished off my second box, I have become a rice krispies addict. Like, seriously... WTF? Who knew that rice krispies... a little splenda (okay, a LOT of splenda) and some milk could join together and create pure tastebud nirvana? OH. MY. GOD. It's heaven in a bowl (or a big ass plastic cup, when I run out of bowls).

Digressing, (because as I write this, I'm starting to crave a bowl)... Steph and I chose to make Scotcheroos (not only because they look delicious, but also because I requested a recipe that I could use up some butterscotch chips I had lying around) for our next Best Friends Baking dish.

Now, I've made Scotcheroos before. And I remembered them being kind of ooey-gooey and peanut buttery and delicious, so I was pretty excited about this recipe.

I must say though... that this recipe for Scotcheroos was just... okay. I mean, instead of ooey-gooey, they kind of turned into brick-like. If you like the standard, crunchier rice krispie treats, then this recipe is probably right up your alley. But, if you prefer a looser, gooey-er treat, then you might want to try my other recipe (the only difference is the other recipe calls for brown sugar, instead of granulated...).

Regardless, these were tasty. I found myself continually cutting off portions of it and snacking on it.

Chocolate Scotcheroos
Makes about 24 bars

So, when a recipe has peanut butter in it, I expect it to taste peanut buttery... and even though I basically doubled the peanut butter in this recipe, it still wasn't peanut buttery enough for me. I'm not sure how to fix that. I'm afraid if I add more than double the amount of peanut butter, that the bars won't turn out right because of the proportions of the other ingredients. Maybe in the future, I'll experiment with adding some peanut butter to the top layer or something. Not sure.

Ingredients:
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
6 cups rice krispies cereal
1 package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 package butterscotch morsels
Vegetable cooking spray

Measure corn syrup and sugar into large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat.

Stir in peanut butter; mix well. Add rice krispie cereal. Stir until well coated. Press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Set aside.

Melt chocolate and butterscotch morsels together in small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Spread evenly over cereal mixture. Let stand until firm. Cut into bars when cool.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TWD: Pumpkin Muffins


This is the time of year that as I peruse through various other foodie blogs, I usually end up saying to myself.... "ewwwww..." because every freaking blog out there loves pumpkin recipes and puts like a gazillion pumpkin recipes on their blogs. Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin. And for someone who doesn't like pumpkin flavored anything... this is all very disappointing.

So, when Kelly of Sounding my Barbaric Gulp picked this weeks Tuesdays with Dorie recipe... Pumpkin Muffins, I just threw my hands up in the air and said... what the hell... I'll give these a whirl.

You see... my hope was that I just thought that I didn't like pumpkin. As a kid... we never had pumpkin pie or pumpkin anything... and the smell of nutmeg, cloves, etc... just doesn't do it for me. So, I just always assumed that all things pumpkin were... well... gross. But, I couldn't actually remember a time when I've had anything pumpkin. And I adore spice cake flavors, so it only makes sense that I'd like pumpkin (yes, even with nutmeg, which I realize I've sworn off on here many times before, I realize that maybe I've given nutmeg a bad name for nothing). So... it was time to test out my taste buds.

For this recipe, I went ahead and bought some whole nutmeg and some whole cloves. I mean... if I'm going all out... I might as well go all out in style, right?

The recipe came together very quickly... but I will say this.... it's really hard to measure cloves and nutmeg when you are grinding whole ones with a microplane. Any tips?

The verdict? Well... first let me say... that I didnt think these were overwhelmingly pumpkin-y. They were very mild in flavor (I probably didn't get enough of the spices in there), but they were some of the best muffins I've ever made. Very moist with a tender crumb. They could have been a little sweeter for my tastes (I mean, I realize... it's a muffin, it's not supposed to be a cake, but... what can I say, I've got one helluva sweet tooth). But the flavor was pleasant. And so, I've decided to expand my horizons and give some other pumpkin, nutmeg, clove recipes a try in the future!

Because of the muffins mild flavor.... I whipped up a little bourbon glaze: bourbon, confectioners sugar and melted butter and drizzled over them to jazz them up. (And jazz them up, it did!).

So, if you want to make these, check out Kelly's Blog for the recipe. Thanks Kelly for showing me that I don't have to shun pumpkin anymore!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lemon Bars

I think it's awesome (and usually dangerous to your diet) the way food can link you to memories of people or particular moments of your life. A lot of my favorite foods remind me of people or places that I love... Pecan Pie: My Aunt Rita. Outback's Cheese Fries: College. Grandma Cookies: My childhood. Coconut Cake: My Paternal Grandma. Chili-Cheese Dip: Tailgating. And Lemon-flavored anything: My Maternal Grandma.

My Grandma B. loved all things lemon. And every year, her birthday usually coincided with the big family reunion in October. I can remember my mom cooking all day and night on the Friday before... and one of the things she always made was specifically for my Grandma: a lemon bundt cake with a lemon glaze. The cake was from a box mix, but damn was it good. Moist and sweet and lemony, it was the only time I really ever had anything lemon-y like that and I loved it.

My Grandma B passed away when I was a senior in high school. Before she passed, she was living with us for a couple of years... and in my selfish, teenage angst I think I subconsciously resented her for taking away attention from me (I know, it sounds terrible... but when you're a teenager you think that the world completely revolves around you) and I'm sad that I never really got to know her as a person... I really only knew her as my grandma with the uncomfortable couches, chickens that pooped everywhere, and constantly churning milk in the kitchen. I think as adults, she and I would have gotten along really well.

She was a very strong, independent woman... she wasn't necessarily sweet and demure like you think of most grandmothers, she was fiery and passionate and you always knew where you stood with her. As a child... I didn't appreciate those qualities... but as a woman of 28, I understand her a little more and I definitely feel like I've acquired a lot of the same qualities.

Her birthday is today... and while I didn't make a lemon cake, I did make these lemon bars a few weeks ago in her honor. They are absolutely delicious and definitely the best lemon bars I've ever had. It's funny how her favorite dessert is representative of her personality... sassy and tangy at the onset... but sweet and smooth for the finish. If you're looking for your go to lemon bar recipe, look no further... Anna at Cookie Madness found them.

Possibly The Best Ever Lemon Squares

It looks like the original source of this recipe was a Cooks Illustrated recipe. But, Anna at Cookie Madness made some changes, click the link above to see her post and recipe (and to check out her blog, cause it's awesome).

This recipe is everything that a lemon bar recipe should be: the filling is lemony and creamy and oh so smooth and rich and the crust is buttery and crunchy with a hint of saltiness that compliments the sweet tanginess of the filling.

A word on the crust: it will look like it's just flour pressed into the pan... but fear not... as it blind bakes in the oven the butter will melt and meld the crust together. I also poured the filling over the hot (not just warm) crust and it turned it out perfect (it did sizzle when it hit the pan though).

This makes an 8 inch square pan.

Crust:

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (114 grams)

1/3 cup powdered sugar — plus extra for garnishing

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3/8 teaspoon salt (just use ¼ tsp plus an extra pinch)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces


Filling:

2 large eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon lemon zest (the zest of 1.5 lemons)

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (I found this to be 2 lemons)

3 tablespoons half & half (I used heavy cream, cause thats what I had)

1/8 teaspoon salt


Don’t preheat oven quite yet. Line an 8 inch square metal pan with foil. Spray the foil with cooking spray.

Pulse flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt in food processor. Add butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until coarse. (I used a pastry cutter to cut the butter in)

Pour what will seem like a very *dry* mixture into lined pan and press over pan bottom.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While it chills, you can make the filling.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When oven is preheated and after the crust has chilled for 30 minutes, bake the pre-chilled crust for 18-20 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned.


Filling:

Lightly beat the eggs, sugar, and flour together in a bowl. I used a fork. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, half and half, and salt and mix well.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees (oops! I forgot to reduce the temp, I cooked mine at 350 and had no problems). Stir filling again, then pour filling over **warm** crust. Bake for 20 minutes or until filling no longer appears wet and shaky.

Set on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Lift from pan, place on cutting board, dust with extra powdered sugar and cut into bars.


Cut into a dozen squares.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

TWD: Lenox Almond Biscotti

For me, this quasi cookie/pseudo biscuit baked good should come with a tagline:

Homemade Biscotti... awesome kitchen potpourri... terrible cookie/biscuit impersonator.

I was hoping that I had just had "bad" biscotti in my past... and that magically, these biscotti would become my new favorite baked good. Alas... they did not. I'm just not a biscotti girl. I don't drink coffee (I get my caffeine by way of liquid crack...read: diet coke) and I don't generally eat ice cream... so... these were just kind of like sugary croutons for me. I'm sure if you like biscotti though... they're fantastic.

They are easy enough to make... and I halved the recipe (thank goodness), used some vanilla in place of the almond extract. I mean, I'm all for almond extract, but it sounded like just a wee too much for me... and I think the half and half vanilla/almond extract was a smart choice. I also threw in some coconut... cause... ya know... why not waste one of your favorite ingredients in a cookie you most likely won't like, right??? Hmph.

Anyway, if you like biscotti give this a try... you can visit Gretchen's blog at Canela & Comino and be sure to check out all the other TWDers at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

BFB: Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

So, as I've mentioned before... my best friend Steph recently moved to Oregon. She, like me, loves to bake, and she also, like me, has a blog. Are we two cool cats, or what?

Anyway, since we talk about baking and food a lot and compare recipes, we thought it would be fun to buy the same cookbook and randomly and sporadically pick out recipes to make together (well, apart... whatever, you get the idea).

So, we bought this book Favorite Brand Name Best Loved Chocolate Recipes (quite the title, no?). And since we both love pecans and chocolate... we picked as our inaugural recipe... Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars.

These bars were good. But, I'm going to be honest... they're not great. I mean... pecan pie is my absolute favorite pie. I have dreams about pecan pie... I would marry pecan pie if it were legal (incidentally... maybe it is, in sweden?) And so when the words.. "pecan pie" appear in a recipe, I get a little excited. These bars do not taste like pecan pie. Actually, they taste like fudge pie with pecans thrown in. Good bars and easy to make... but not worthy of having "pecan pie" in their name.

Incidentally, if you want to try these... Steph had a good idea... of instead of melting the chocolate into the bars, to throw in chocolate chips whole... I think thats a great idea!

Check out Steph's Blog to see how hers turned out and stayed tuned for some more chocolatey recipes in the future :)

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
from Favorite Brand Name Best-Loved Chocolate Recipes

The crust will seem VERY dry. Just make sure you press it really hard into the pan and as it bakes the butter will melt and meld it all together. Like I said... don't expect it to be very pecan pie-y. Think of it more like fudge pie squares with pecans and I dont think you'll be as disappointed as I was.

Makes about 32 bars

Ingredients

Filling
3/4 cup light or dark corn syrup (I used dark)
3 squares (1 ounce each) semisweet chocolate, or 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped pecans

Bar Cookie Crust
non-stick cooking spray
2 cups flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold margarine or butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray 13x9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

2. First, prepare the bar cookie crust: In large bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat flour, butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press firmly into bottom and 1/4 inch up sides of prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

3. Meanwhile, for filling, in heavy 3-quart saucepan stir corn syrup and chocolate over low heat just until chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla until blended. Stir in pecans. Pour over hot crust; spread evenly. Bake 20 minutes or until filling is firm around edges and slightly soft in center. Cool completely on wire rack. Cut into 2 x 1 1/2-inch bars.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TWD: Creme Brulee

I've had creme brulee twice in my whole entire life. The first time being last October and the last time being a couple weeks ago. It was totally not what I expected the first time I had it, it was okay, but it wasn't as rich and creamy as I had imagined creme brulee being. The next time I had it, it was better than the first, but not like knock me out of my socks good.

So, when Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake chose Creme Brulee for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, I was psyched! Now I could see what REAL creme brulee is supposed to taste like.

I went on a bit of a mission to find a cheap creme brulee set. I went to all the usual suspect stores for discounted bakeware... Ross, Marshalls, TJ Maxx.... none of them had one (though if you're looking for butter warmers, rest assured, all three places had about 1500 sets). I did find a set at Target for 19.99 and luckily I happened to notice on the box that it did not include the torch fuel which was sitting right next to it for an additional 4.99. So, for $25+ tax, I opted out of the fancy schmancy cookware and went old school. I told my self, if I like this recipe... I'll ask for a set for christmas (although, to be honest... I've asked for a set for the past 5 christmases and have yet to get one).

The recipe was super freaking easy. I mean, besides the fact that it literally took like 15 minutes for my milk and cream to get to the boiling point (is it just me or does cream not always take forever to almost boil. ugh. what is it's problem?), it was one of the easiest recipes we've done in TWD. Even the waiting on the milk to boil didn't bother me.... I think it was the aroma from the vanilla in the sugar and egg yolks that I had sitting next to me... it like lulled me into a strange calm.

Even the old school broiling in ramekins (not creme brulee dishes) was easy. I just had to let it do it's thing for a little while. I used my ceramic pie dish filled up with some ice water to get the creme brulee under the broiler. A' la....


I didn't get the burned, broiled, caramel color on top... but I did get the lightly crunchy shell.

Final verdict? This is FREAKING awesome. I mean, now I get it. I finally get what the big hoopla over creme brulee is. But, I can assure you I won't be ordering this in a restaurant again. Especially since it's so easy to make at home and so much better!
Velvety smooth and creamy... this is a definte keeper. Creme Brulee set... here I come!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chocolate Sheet Cake... Pioneer Woman Style.

Chocolate cake. Mmmmmm.
Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Mmmmmm.

I love chocolate cake. I mean... I love chocolate, by itself. But I love chocolate cake much, much more. And chocolate sheet cake is a different kind of chocolate cake... because it's got a sweeter, thinner icing that is almost as thick as the actual cake itself.

I had been eyeing this recipe for chocolate sheet cake for awhile and when I finally decided to make it, I opted to halve the recipe and bake it in a little glass casserole dish, so the cake part was actually a little thicker than a normal sheet cake.... but, that's fine by me, because this cake was super moist.

The only issue I had with this cake was the flavor lacked "umph." And afterwards, as I was looking over the recipe I realized that was due to an error on my part.... the recipe calls for SALTED butter, not unsalted butter. So... if you are going to use unsalted butter, be sure to add some salt, because that will take this recipe from good to excellent.

This cake is easy to make and would be a crowd pleaser (or a one person pleaser like it turned out to be for me).

Pioneer Woman's Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever.

** Recipe Note... I used half dark cocoa and half regular cocoa in the recipe. Sometimes I think regular cocoa's color makes baked goods look... I dunno... dull.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TWD: Dimply Plum Cake.

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie was chosen by Michelle at Bake-en. She chose the Dimply Plum Cake.

This cake was an experiment in substitutions for me. First off... my grocery store had peaches on sale, so I opted to follow my pocketbook instead of the recipe and picked up some peaches. Little did I know that they were sale because they were shitty. Pretty and red on the outside... hard as a rock and flavorless on the inside. Awesome.

I also attempted to make this recipe healthier... I used white whole wheat flour and applesauce instead of oil. And instead of brown sugar, I used the Splenda Brown Sugar. These substitutions worked out great!

I also substituted cinnamon instead of cardamom (what the heck is cardamom???) and almond extract instead of vanilla. Those two substitutions.... ehhhh.. not so great. This cake would have been awesome if I nixed the cinnamon and used vanilla instead of almond extract. As it was, it was pretty good... but the almond extract was wayyyyy overpowering and the cinnamon... ehhh.. I just wasn't feeling it.

It was a good cake, though... and I'll likely try it again with actual plums.

I halved the recipe and came out with one mini loaf pan.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Peanut Butter Cookies

My life these past couple of weeks has been crazy. And it's mainly because of work. We are working our asses off trying to get some things wrapped up before Bossman (my dad is my boss for those of you who don't know) goes on his 15 day Mediterranean cruise. We're all stressed and snappy and that makes for a work environment where the tension is almost paralyzing.

I don't get stressed out easily. I try to keep my eye on the "big picture" in life and I apply the philosophy of "overall impact" to all those potential stressful moments in life. For instance... I find myself always asking myself... "is this even going to matter in 6 months? 1 year? etc?" If not... then it's not worth getting worked up over. It works... Well... most of the time, it works.

Even if I'm telling myself I'm not stressed... my body does things that shows me that I am and reminds that I need to just chillax. All week, I've wanted to sleep in, I'm generally fatigued and quiet, my neck and shoulders are in knots and my appetite is non-existent for real food... but raging for sweets and junk food.

Last week, I came home one night and all I could think about was peanut butter. And then I thought about trying a new peanut butter cookie recipe. But I wavered, because I didn't want to wind up standing in the kitchen all night. My couch was calling me... and when the couch calls... I answer.

So, I pulled out a recipe that I had made awhile back... it's so easy with so few ingredients. There's no butter or flour in the recipe and the cookies come out perfect. Crunchy, crumbly, and yet soft all at the same time. I threw in some chocolate chips (why not?) and in about 15 minutes flat, I had delicious peanut butter cookies that made me feel...



...a lot better. I'm sure there are better peanut butter cookie recipes out there... but for the ease and simplicity of this recipe... it's hard to beat.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies