Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Sweets and Treats

Christmas time is a wonderful time of year. I love everything about the sights (Christmas lights and decorations), the sounds (beautiful, warming Christmas music), the smells (Christmas trees, gingerbread) and of course, the tastes!! Among my favorite flavors of Christmas time are things like Alton Brown's fruitcake, anything with peppermint, and pumpkin and it's entourage of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove spices (although technically, that's a Thanksgiving taste too). This year, since finishing up my first set of law school finals, I've been Christmas baking like crazy! So crazy in fact, it has taken me this long to post a few of things I made. I say a few because I also made a couple other desserts that were eaten before I got a chance to take of picture of them!

This Peppermint bark recipe was so easy to make! It was my first year making it and I will definitely do it again. The only hard part is crushing all the little peppermint hard candies, that is, unless you have a food processor. Which, of course, they don't provide you with at the law school housing. The recipe is pretty basic: melt some dark chocolate (I used a 8 oz bag of semi-sweet chips) and stir in about 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Spread that onto a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Then melt some white chocolate (Again, one 8 oz bag of real white chips) and stir in the crushed peppermint candies, reserve some to press on top for decoration and spread this layer on top of the dark chocolate. One it cools and hardens, break it up and much away! (or be nice and give it away)

I also made some Easy Fudge and decorated each piece with a walnut half. It was my first attempt at making Fudge myself and since I didn't bring my candy thermometer with me to school, I figured I should go the safe route and do the easy fudge recipe. Still tasted great though!

Next up is something I made when I got home. This Apple Carmel Crisp was a BIG hit at school when I made it one night that I decided to try it at home for my family. My brother ate one serving, said it was good, and then about a half hour later, was eating another serving! And he never does that! Needless to say, it was crowd pleaser at home too. 

Next is Libby's pumpkin roll cake! My mom loves pumpkin flavored things so this was a request from her. She enjoyed it thoroughly, as well as the rest of my family. I followed the recipe pretty closely except I used splenda in the cake instead of sugar. It same out a little thinner than usual but that just means that there is a high frosting to cake ratio! No complaints there!

Lastly is my pumpkin cheesecake. Basically, I took my favorite cheesecake recipe and method, found here by Alton Brown, and added 1 cup of pumpkin puree and it's spice groupies (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg...you know the drill). I made the crust from ginger spice cookies I found in the bakery section at the grocery store. This cheesecake was creamy, smooth and the flavor of the pumpkin was not overpowering at all. And the best part is my family loved it!  

All this talk about Christmas baking has put me in the mood to make something sweet. Oh no, the cycle continues!

Friday, November 21, 2008

American Classics: Red Velvet Cupcakes and Cheesecake

I should probably own stocks in Philadelphia Cream Cheese. No kidding, I have a least one block of cream cheese in my fridge at all times (if not more)! Even now that I'm not living at home, I still feel the urge to wander down the aisle at the grocery store where I know the cream cheese will be patiently awaiting my arrival and check to see if my little blocks of goodness are on sale. And if they are, I have to fight the instinct to buy 3, 4, maybe even 5 blocks! Oh and the real danger is at Costco! It's probably a good thing that there isn't a Costco anywhere in sight in Malibu, because they sell cases of the cream cheese... *sigh* 

The issue is that there are so many applications for cream cheese, so many DELICIOUS applications, that is. Cheesecake, cream cheese frosting/filling, danishes, I even throw it my baked Macaroni and Cheese! But by far, my two favorite uses for cheesecake come in the form of two American classics: Cheesecake and Cream Cheese Frosting (as in here on top of Red Velvet Cupcakes). 

(The tastiest lint in the world!)

Hands down, this is my favorite recipe for Red Velvet. It's Paula Deen's and can be found on the food network website. They are moist, tender and down right scrumptious! One warning though, this recipe makes way too much frosting, (Yea I know, you can't really have too much frosting) but the past few times I've made this recipe, I've cut down the frosting by half and still had some left over.

As for cheesecakes, there are all kinds: Firm, dense cheesecakes, light and fluffy cheesecakes, and of course, there's that category of cheesecake wanna-bes (dare I say, no-bake cheesecakes!). But honestly, no matter which way you look at it, cheesecake is not really a cake at all. It's a custard. It's a mostly fat and egg based dessert that is cooked low and slow in a water bath. Not at 350ยบ for 45 minutes or anything that sounds like you're baking an actual cake.

No, in fact the best cheesecakes are ones that are fully cooked and yet still soft and smooth. My favorite cheesecake is by Alton Brown and can also be found on the food network website. The man is genius and this recipe just goes to show it! This cheesecake comes out perfect. And it's all about the texture, which in most custards, is what is necessary to the flavor of the cheesecake. I have tried many, many, many cheesecake recipes and this one is absolutely my favorite!

As a plus, it's always a crowd pleaser. I mean, who can resist 10 pounds of perfectly delicious cheesecake when it stares you in the face??! (not me!)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Quest for The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is something uniquely heart warming about freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The sweet smell the fills the room as you watch the little dough mounds puff and spread, that for some reason, has an affect that is unmatched by any other cookie. Looking at the cookies as they cool on the baking sheet, it's becomes very easy to forget the meaning of self-restraint. You want to bite into them while the chocolate is still melty and the centers are still gooey but, as you know from childhood, that two bad things could happen if you do: 1) you can burn your tongue with the hot goodness and 2) you might get a tummy ache afterward (though you know that in both cases, it's well worth it)! 

So in order to receive the full effect of a soft, freshly baked cookie that lasts for days, I began experimenting with recipes to get the perfect chocolate chip cookie: one that is thick and not flat, moist and soft in the center, crisp on the edges, and the right ratio of chocolate chips to cookie dough. This started as a simple project...but it soon developed into a little obsession of mine. I researched cookie recipe after cookie recipe. I considered using different flours, butter or shortening, brown sugar to white sugar ratios and various types of chocolate chips. Finally, I came across a concept that really opened my eyes and is a drastic change in the type of leavening. 

Instant Yeast! Yes, you read that correctly! I started with a recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies that I knew would result in the soft center, chewy cookie that I was looking for and replaced the leavening it called for with the ingredient known to add a lift while maintaining the shape of the baked good. The cookies turned out to be simply the best! They were lightly browned and crisp on the outside, yet incredibly soft and moist in the center. But the best part was not the texture, although that was nearly perfect. The best part was the flavor! The cookies tasted clean and sweet, unobstructed by the "chemically" taste of baking soda/baking powder. The texture was that of the perfect cookie but the flavor was like a chocolate chip cookie flavored sweet bread! 

I highly recommend that you take your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (or any drop cookie recipe for that matter) and replace the baking soda or baking powder with about a teaspoon of highly active dry yeast. I can guess what you will be quite pleased with the results. 
This experiment of mine is still on going and I would also love any input you have after trying out this happy little accident :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A little Law School "Pick me up"

Tiramisu in Italian means "pick me up." As we now enter the third month of our first year of law school, I think that it just about goes without saying that my classmates and I need a little pick me up! So, in order to spread the boost around, I made Williams-Sonoma's Tiramisu recipe. 

And I glad that I did. Whipped heavy cream, mascarpone cheese and fluffy eggs over coffee, liquor, sugar soaked Lady Fingers...sounds like a great pick-me-up to me! I'm also pretty confident that all those who enjoyed a slice (or two, or three) agreed. 

If you like Tiramisu, I highly recommend the Williams-Sonoma recipe. However, I have a small (but big) warning: this recipe makes a lot of tiramisu! Like, two trays worth of the creamy stuff! So unless you have a endless supply of hungry graduate school boys around, I suggest cutting down the recipe by at least a third. It wasn't until after we finished making the Tiramisu and I realized that the recipe makes enough for a 6 quart dish! We used the only thing we had available which was a 2 quart baking dish and then filled my 8 by 8 brownie pan with the overflow. Trust me, it tasted good, but it's been 5 days since we made this recipe and there is still half of a tray sitting in my neighbor's fridge (and some secretly stashed away in my freezer). 

Speaking of 5 days though, this tiramisu holds up pretty well and still tastes good after a few days. Another quick little suggestion is that when you soak the lady fingers, try not to exceed dunking each piece for 2-3 seconds because they really are little sponges and could get soggy and runny later on down the road. Other than that, make this recipe a night in advance, let the flavors chill and mingle in overnight in the fridge, and have a piece for breakfast instead of your morning coffee! Buon appetito!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chocolate Coma: Quintuple Chocolate Brownies

If you love chocolate, I mean really, really, LOVE chocolate, you must make these Quintuple (that's 5!) Chocolate Brownies by Dori Greenspan. I've admitting my deep adoration for chocolate before, but it wasn't until I made and tasted these brownies that I discovered my profound appreciation of a cold glass of milk. Because, trust me, when you eat these, you will need a least one glass of milk per brownie!

As the name suggests, this recipe calls for 5 different types of chocolate: a quarter cup of cocoa, three ounces each unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate and six ounces of milk chocolate chips. And if with this list, you have not yet reached the point of a chocolate coma, the baked and cooled brownie are finished with a white chocolate glaze! And I know this sounds strange, but the extra layer of creamy white chocolate helped to offset the intense chocolatiness of each deep square. So you are planning on making these, go all the way and don't skip the glaze! Although I do suggest using less cream to make the glaze then the recipe calls for because a nice thick layer gives a better balance and makes for beautiful brownies.  

For the purpose of this blog, I cut the brownies into 16 squares but they were so dense that we ended up cutting them down in size again. Overall, the reaction to this recipe was a big hit. I thank all those loyal friends who did me the favor of eating these brownies so that I wouldn't be tempted to eat the entire tray myself!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dori's Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Dori Greenspan's Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

I like poppy seeds. I like lemony baked goods. And I love icing! Put those three elements together and bake them into cute little muffins and you'll win my heart! These delicious muffins come from a book by Dori Greenspan called Baking From My Home to Yours. I've heard this book described as the baking bible and after trying a few recipes from it, especially this winner, I can honestly say I'm a follower :)

This muffin was tender and sweet. The poppy seeds gave it a delicious textural crunch and the little specks of lemon zest added just the right touch of lemon zing. The best part, though, has to be the icing! It's simply made up of powdered sugar and lemon juice but dipping the muffin tops into the icing and slowly letting it drip down the sides made the whole experience all the most tantalizing. After attempting to drizzle the icing, it became clear that in order to maximize the icing to muffin ratio, the best way to go about it was just to dip the top of each muffin into the icing, quickly flip it over, set it on a cooling rack with some old newspaper underneath, and just let the goodness descend. Once cooled and set, these muffins were definitely worth the wait!

If you're interested in baking up a batch of these (which I highly recommend for you lemon lovers out there) you can find the recipe on p. 10 of Baking: From my home to yours. I followed the recipe closely and was met with sweet success. A little hint though, when the batter is distributed, the muffins seem a little scarce, but trust me, they puff up considerably and in my book, the bigger and billower the muffin, the better!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Creamy Cream Cheese Filling

It's October already! Oh how I love the Fall season! But here in the Malibu, there isn't much of a fall "season" per say. For instance, yesterday, the temperature reached the mid 80's! The sun was beautifully glistening on the ocean and the sky was a clear, bright blue. Just gorgeous! 

However, to remind myself that it really is Fall and that we're really in October now, I wanted to bake something with one of my favorite Fall ingredients: Pumpkin! I bought a can of pumpkin from the grocery store last weekend, determined to make something sweet with this tasty squash. I searched and searched for recipes on the web, debating between pumpkin bars swirled with cream cheese or maybe even pumpkin pie flavored ice-cream (did I mention it was in the 80's!). Finally, after viewing many mouth watering pictures of these treats, I couldn't resist trying my hand at making Whoopie Pies. 

This was my very first attempt at ever making whoopie...pies that is ;) And trust me, there was a lot to learn. I got the recipe from researching many others and cutting and pasting to create something I thought would work for me. It turned out to a little more challenging than the impression I got from other recipes. First off, my whoopie pies did not spread much while baking. I used my little cookie scoop to dish out uniformly sized cakes and on the first batch as I expected them to spread into flatter cookie-like shapes. This did not occur! Instead, they puffed straight up into little mounds! They looked super cute and tasted great, but it definitely wasn't what I expected. For my second batch, I tried using a spoon to flatten them out a bit, you know, give them a little direction as to which way to go. But alas, still poof and no spread. Finally, I got the idea to put the batter into a pastry bag and actually pipe out little swirls of the shape I was looking for and Volia! It worked beautifully! Besides being the perfect height and shape, they sure looked great topped with a little swirl designed that kept it's shape in the oven. It's funny how sometimes the last batch is the best :)

While my little pumpkins were baking I whipped up a little cream cheese frosting to go in the middle of the whoopie pie sandwich. Cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and just a hint of cinnamon... so simple but sooo yummy! Filling the whoopie pies also turned out to be another challenge altogether but that's mainly because I was trying to make them look nice by using a pastry bag and pipe out the filling with a star tip. But I suppose too much pressure is a bad thing with cream cheese frosting because the bag busted as I was trying to squeeze out a pretty design! Trust me folks, the best way to get whoopie pies filled is just to use a big ol' spoon and slather away! Plus once you squish the top half onto the bottom, the frosting does that lovely oozing thing, which in my opinion, it a sight to behold all in itself. 

Oh and because I used cream cheese as a filling, I think these whoopie pies taste phenomenal on the next day after being chilled in the fridge over night. The pies stay moist and the filling is soft and sweet, yet firm. But hey, it's up to you. They taste great either way. I highly recommend you try them as a way to kick off the pumpkin-y season because the smell of baking these will fill you with that cozy, "fall season" sensation. 

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Filling
Makes 12-14

3 cups AP Flour
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup Splenda (use could white sugar if you like)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 - 15 oz. can of pumpkin
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat together brown sugar, Splenda, oil and pumpkin. Add eggs one at time, mixing well after each addition, followed by the vanilla. In a separate bowl, shift together the dry ingredients. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined. 
Using a pastry bag with a round tip, or a big zip top plastic bag with one corner snipped, squeeze out concentric circles of batter, starting from the middle and working outward until the circles are about 2 inches in diameter. Bake for 11 minutes and cool on a rack.

Cream Cheese Filling
1 - 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 - 16 oz. package of powdered sugar
about a capful of vanilla extract
a pinch of cinnamon (to taste)

Beat together cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Frost flat side of half the pies and top with another piece. 

Enjoy right away or chill overnight.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Milk Chocolate Raspberry Muffins

Mouthwatering Muffins With a Sweet Kiss of Raspberry and Milk Chocolate.

Hello everyone! This is my very first venture into food blogging (well, blogging in general) and I am so excited to get started making delicious creations and sharing my recipes! Being a first year law school student is very challenging and time consuming but baking gives a release and joy like no other. Because, as many who enjoy cooking know, there is nothing like having someone bite into something you made from scratch and saying, "yuum, this is good!" So, this blog is a way of finding my happy place amidst the chaos of law school and hopefully, inspiring others to get into the kitchen and start whipping up their own dreamy desserts!

These muffins came a day after a successful batch of blueberry muffins (more on those soon). I was inspired by my love of chocolate and the little voice inside that reminds me (though I don't always listen) to eat more fruit. Now don't get my wrong, I am 100% a dark chocolate girl. Trust me, I need to eat a piece of high quality 60-80% cocoa dark chocolate every day. However, these milk chocolate chips are so outrageously creamy that they make the perfect breakfast chocolate (uh-huh, I said it) to go with the slightly tart but sweet raspberries. This recipe resulted in a muffin with a pretty fine and moist crumb. The oats give a nice texture contrast to the milk chocolate (and offset the unhealthiness of those sweet melty morsels) and the raspberry, though detectable, slightly flavors each bite with berry goodness. They are quick and simple to make. Try them for breakfast and you'll be so glad that you did!

Milk Chocolate Raspberry Oat Muffins
Makes 12

1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup raspberry yogurt
1 large egg
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup milk chocolate chips
½ cup raspberries, fresh or frozen 

Preheat oven to 400F and prepare muffin tins.
Stir the egg, sugar, yogurt, oil and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Combine oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Dump the dry ingredients over the wet and stir the batter until just combined. 
Fold in berries and chocolate chips carefully without over mixing.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins and place in oven. Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 18 minutes, rotating once half way through baking.
Enjoy with a tall, cold glass of milk!