Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, 2011! Yellow Layer Cake with Fudge Frosting


I don't usually make new year resolutions, but thanks to the disaster that is this cake, I'm making an exception this year. I resolve to successfully assemble and frost a layer cake before 2011 comes to an end. Do you remember my first post? A delicious German Chocolate Cake that was hideous as could be. How about my first attempt at Carrot Cake? Misshapen layers and uneven frosting. I'm surprised that Cake Wrecks hasn't already accused me of stealing their idea. And now there's this monstrosity.

Before I forget to say anything nice about this cake, I should tell you that it is absolutely the best yellow cake with chocolate frosting I've ever tasted. The rich, buttery flavor of the cake pairs perfectly with the intensely chocolatey fudge frosting. If only it looked as delicious as it tastes. I won't bore you with the details of how it went wrong, but in the end I had to peel the top layer off with my hands and try to cover all the leftover crumbs with the little frosting I had left. Then, like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound, I tried to disguise my cake wreck with rainbow nonpareils. Sprinkles make everything better, right?


At this point, I would normally start pouting like a six-year-old and throw the whole thing in the trash, unable to bear the sight of its imperfection. But after tasting a few pieces of that top layer as I peeled it off the rest of my sad little cake, I couldn't care less what it looked like. It was that good.

So happy birthday, 2011. Let's hope that by 2012, this cake will be forgot and never brought to mind.

That was lame, I know.

Yellow Layer Cake
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups cake flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened and cubed

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

2. In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Measure out 1 cup of this mixture and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Run the mixer on low speed for about 30 seconds to combine the dry ingredients. With the mixer still running on low, add the butter one cube at a time, and continue to mix until the butter and flour form pea-sized clumps.

4. With the mixer still on low, add 1 cup of the egg mixture. Once it's incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy. Slowly add the remaining egg mixture. Stop the mixer, scrape the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium-high about 15 seconds more.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cakes to loosen them from the pans. Invert each pan onto a plate and peel off the parchment paper. Re-invert the cakes onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

Fudge Frosting
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook: Heart Health Edition

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup baking cocoa
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:

1. In a medium saucepan, combine granulated sugar, cocoa, milk, butter, corn syrup, and salt. Heat to boiling, stirring frequently. Allow the mixture to boil for 3 minutes, then remove the pan from heat and allow to cool for 45 minutes.

2. Once the mixture has cooled, stir in powdered sugar until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: Hamilton Beach 6-Slice Toaster Oven


I keep surprising myself with the kinds of things that end up on my wish list now that I'm an adult and have my own home. Example: I was super excited to receive a walk-through baby gate from my parents for Christmas, which will eliminate us having to set up and take down (or climb over) the non-walk-through gate we have been using to keep Charlie contained in the laundry room.

Another example is this toaster oven. I've been wanting to replace my old toaster oven ever since we accidentally turned it on with a loaf of bread sitting on top of it, the plastic from which melted onto the top and forever left its mark. Even though it still worked, it looked tacky, and the baking tray that came with it was irrevocably tarnished with three years' worth of the charred remnants of meals past.

So, when CSN Stores offered me another opportunity to review one of their products, I knew that a new toaster oven was in my future. I chose this particular oven because it matches my kitchen, it comes with a baking tray, and it was relatively inexpensive.

This oven has three different control knobs (temperature, function, and timer) which are fairly self-explanatory, although I did double-check the manual just to make sure I was using them correctly. Then again, I tend to double-check most everything. The oven heated quickly and cooked my food very evenly. In case you were wondering, I decided to christen my new oven with a Meatballs & Mozzarella Lean Pocket. Gourmet, I know. One aspect I really like is the timer, which goes as high as 30 minutes, whereas my old toaster oven's timer only went up to 15 minutes. My only complaint is that there was a bit of smoke and a burning smell when I first turned it on, but the manual says that this is normal during the first use.

The bottom line? If you are as boring as I am and have a toaster oven on your wish list, I think this one would be a good choice!

FTC Disclaimer: This product was purchased in part with a gift code provided to me for free by CSN Stores; however, all opinions stated above are my own.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas 2010: Gingerbread Men and Sugar Cookies


Christmas would not be complete for me without frosted sugar cookies. And even though I knew I had to work every day during the ten days leading up to Christmas, I was determined to make them. And not only sugar cookies, but gingerbread cookies as well. I had the best laid plans. I would make the dough on the 22nd, cut out and bake the cookies and make the frosting on the 23rd, decorate the cookies on the 24th, and eat the cookies on the 25th.

Well, as you probably guessed, things went awry.

Somehow, I ended up making the dough, cutting out the cookies, baking the cookies, and making the frosting between 10pm and 2am on December 23. I couldn't see my countertop. My lazy, glue-like substitute for royal icing was everywhere. Everywhere. I forgot to buy shortening and was short a 1/2 cup of molasses. It wasn't pretty, and it certainly wasn't going according to plan. But at least I could still look forward to decorating the cookies on Christmas Eve with my sister.

Little did I know that Christmas Eve had other plans for my sister and me. (No, it should not say my sister and I. Check it.) These plans included, but were not limited to, an epic search for the last iPod nano on South Hill, a detour to Burger King to obtain ice for the finger on which my sister shut a car door, and a last minute stop at Safeway in hopes of finding anything resembling sourdough bread.

Needless to say, I was feeling a bit Grinchy at that point. But some time later, the Christmas spirit worked its magic, and the cookie decorating happened. And they turned out to be very cute and very delicious, just as I had hoped. Christmas was saved.













Mary's Sugar Cookies
Adapated from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

3 cups powdered sugar
2 cups butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Directions:

1. Cream butter in a mixer at medium speed for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar, and continue creaming about 1-2 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla, and almond, and mix until fully incorporated.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients just until incorporated.

3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Divide the dough in half, and place one half on a floured surface. Roll out the dough until it's about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into shapes with cookie cutters, and place the cookies on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

5. Bake the cookies 7-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Cool completely before frosting.

Gingerbread Cookies
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

1/3 cup butter
1 cup  brown sugar, packed
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

1. Cream butter in a mixer at medium speed for about 1 minute. Add brown sugar, and cream 1-2 minutes more. Add molasses and maple syrup, and mix until combined. Reduce the mixer to low speed, and add the water.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix just until incorporated.

3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Divide the dough in half, and place one half on a floured surface. Roll out the dough until it's about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into shapes with cookie cutters, and place the cookies on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

5. Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes, or until no impression remains when touched lightly. Cool completely before icing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Upcoming product review!

I guess CSN Stores must have known that it was my birthday because they are giving me another opportunity to review one of their products! The only problem now is deciding what to get. They have over 200 websites selling everything from bakeware to shoes to flat screen TV stands! Last time, I got a set of two Calphalon baking sheets, which I just used yesterday to make chocolate chip cookies. What do you think I should get this time?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chewy & Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies


It's December 12. You were probably expecting birthday cake, or maybe some kind of Christmas cookie. A fruitcake, perhaps? All I have to say is it's my birthday, and I'll make chocolate chip cookies if I want to (a la Lesley Gore, of course).

This is by far the most unusual chocolate chip cookie recipe I've tried. Not only did it involve browning butter, but also it required a finicky process of whisking and waiting and whisking and waiting some more. Somehow, this results in a cookie that is soft, chewy, and crispy all at once. Although I wouldn't call this the perfect chocolate chip cookie (as America's Test Kitchen does) I would say that they are worth the extra steps involved.


Just know that once you put in all that extra effort, if you're anything like me, you will completely ignore the instruction to let the cookies cool completely before serving. First of all, what is the point of making chocolate chip cookies if you're not going to eat them warm? Second of all, who serves chocolate chip cookies?! Unless by "serving," they mean placing the cookies on a cooling rack just long enough that they don't fall apart when you pick them up. Now that's a happy birthday, if you ask me.


Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine flour and baking soda in a medium bowl.

3. Melt 10 tablespoons (5 oz) butter in a skillet over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the butter turns a dark golden brown. Remove skillet from heat and transfer butter to a large heatproof bowl. Stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter until completely melted.

3. Whisk the sugars, salt, and vanilla into the melted butter until fully incorporated. Add eggs and whisk until smooth. Allow the mixture to rest for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat this process two more times; the mixture should be thick, smooth, and shiny.

4. Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, just until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.

5. Scoop the dough into approximate 3-tablespoon portions, yielding approximately 16 cookies. Arrange the dough on the baking sheets, about two inches apart.

6. Bake the cookies one tray at a time for about 10-14 minutes. The cookies should be puffed and golden brown; the edges will be set, but the centers will still be soft. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and allow the cookies to cool completely before serving eat the cookies as soon as you are able to pick them up in one piece.

Just in case you were wondering what the small objects in the background of the last picture were, here's a closer look...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cranberry Bliss Bars


I'm going to turn 23 in twelve days. Yes, folks, I've been a bona fide, pays-her-own-rent, cleans-her-own-bathroom, buys-her-own-dishes adult for almost five years. Which makes me wonder why I still get just as excited during the holiday season as I did when I was eight years old.

I may not wear that shirt with the sequined Christmas tree on it anymore, but I am that annoying person who changes the office radio station to the one that plays Christmas music two weeks before Thanksgiving. I'm also that person who drags her boyfriend to a remote bavarian-themed mountain tourist village every December just to see it all lit up with Christmas lights. And, in fact, I am that person who squeals (ever so discreetly) when she walks into Starbucks and sees red cups and cranberry bliss bars.


What is it about those bars? I mean... cranberries? Ehh. White chocolate? Ehh. Ginger? You get the idea.  (And in case you were wondering, "ehh" is a technical term. . . This is my blog, and I will make up onomatopoeia as I see fit.) Somehow, these ingredients are delicious when you put them together; throw in some cream cheese frosting, and they're downright irresistible. I started searching for a recipe for these bars months ago, and as soon as I came across Cakespy's version, I knew I need'nt (?!) look any further. Not only is she from Seattle, but also she makes things like birthday cake french toast. I knew this was going to be good.


I'll be honest. These bars don't taste exactly like the Starbucks version, and I'll even admit that I still like the Starbucks version better (although I think this preference is based more upon nostalgia than taste). Nonetheless, these bars are a must-bake for a few reasons:
  1. They have the perfect balance of spice, sweetness, and tartness.
  2. Did I mention the cream cheese frosting?
  3. Seriously... cake-y bars with cream cheese frosting. Who cares what else is in them?

I think I've made my point.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
Adapted from Cakespy

Bars:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1-1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
2-1/2 cups powdered sugar

Garnish:
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup white chocolate, melted

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch pan.

2. Cream butter in a mixer at medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add brown sugar gradually, and continue creaming until light and fluffy.

3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add vanilla.

4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Gradually add to wet ingredients and mix until completely incorporated. Fold in cranberries and white chocolate.

5. Spread batter in pan and bake from 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

6. For the frosting, cream butter and cream cheese in a mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Add vanilla and beat 1 minute more. Gradually add powdered sugar until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency; you may not need all of the suggested amount.

7. After spreading the frosting evenly over the cake base, garnish with dried cranberries immediately. Use a spoon to drizzle the melted white chocolate over the cranberries.

8. Slice in half lengthwise and then into four equal parts widthwise. Slice each rectangle in half diagonally to make 16 triangular bars.

Not to be bossy or anything, but I think you should eat these slightly chilled. Yumm.

(My excessive use of onomatopoeia in this post should tell you something about how much I like these bars and how few synonyms there are for "delicious.")

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Pumpkin Pie and Apple Non-Pie


Every year, I think I'm going to come up with a new dessert to make for my family's Thanksgiving dinner, but somehow I always come back to pumpkin pie and apple crisp. Since we don't eat either of these desserts any other time throughout the year, it just feels like we would be missing out on something if I didn't make them for Thanksgiving. For the past few years, I've just used basic recipes out of my Betty Crocker cookbook, but this year I decided to try a new twist on each one.


I chose a Martha Stewart pumpkin pie recipe because of the press-in shortbread crust. I haven't had the best luck with pie dough in the past, and I was happy to avoid that process altogether. I ended up doubling the crust recipe in order to have enough dough to fill my pie plate, but other than that the crust was super easy to make. Unfortunately, I wasn't crazy about the flavor, which was slightly bitter and a bit too salty. On the other hand, the filling was silky and perfectly spiced. I think next year I will use the same filling recipe with a gingersnap or graham cracker crust.


The apple crisp I made started out as an apple pie, the recipe for which came from The Repressed Pastry Chef. I even went as far as preparing a buttermilk pie dough, but when it came time to roll it out and transfer it to the pie plate, I got frustrated and decided an apple crisp sounded better anyway! The hardest part of an apple crisp is peeling and slicing all the apples, which my sister was kind enough to help me with. I used Granny Smith apples, which turned out to be a good choice because the tartness of the apples balanced out the sweetness of the topping. Although, I probably could have just eaten the topping and forgotten about the apples all together. . . brown sugar, cinnamon, and I are very good friends.

I know I'm a little late in sharing these recipes for this year's Thanksgiving, but I just prefer to think of myself as conveniently early for next year!



Pumpkin Pie with Shortbread Crust
Adapated from Martha Stewart

For the crust:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt

For the filling:

15 ounces (1 can) pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Prepare the crust: Combine butter and sugar in a medium bowl with a hand mixer. Add egg yolks and mix until combined. Add flour and salt, and mix until dough is dry and crumbly. Press the dough into a 9-inch pie dish (you may not need to use all of the dough). Freeze the crust for about 20 minutes, then bake 20-22 minutes or until golden brown. Let crust cool while you prepare the filling.

2. Reduce oven temperature to 325˚F. Whisk together all filling ingredients until smooth. Pour filling into cooled pie crust. Bake about 1 hour or until filling is just set--slightly puffed but still a bit wobbly. Cool on a wire rack; then, refrigerate until ready to eat or up to two days.

Brown Sugar Apple Crisp
Adapted from The Repressed Pastry Chef

For the filling:

3 pounds apples, peeled and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the crumb topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Combine all topping ingredients except butter in a medium bowl. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the topping mixture until only pea-sized chunks of butter remain. If you don't have a pastry blender, you can use clean hands to rub the butter into the topping mixture.

3. Stir filing to redistribute juices, then pour into a 9-inch pie plate. Evenly distribute crumb topping over the filling. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until apples reach desired tenderness. Serve warm or refrigerate until ready to eat. To reheat, warm apple crisp in a 250˚F oven for about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My First Review + A Recipe Worth Repeating

A couple weeks ago, a representative at CSN Stores contacted me, asking if I would be interested in reviewing a product from any of their 200+ websites on my blog. Being so new to blogging, I was a little surprised that they had contacted me, but of course I was excited about the opportunity!

After extensive browsing of the baking products on their site, I decided on a set of two Calphalon jelly roll pans. I actually chose these pans because the website said they were 13x18 inches, which is the size of a half-sheet pan--something I had been wanting to add to my collection of bakeware. It turned out that the pans are actually 12x17 inches, but they are so versatile that I'm sure I will still get plenty of use out of them. I guess I will just have to keep that half-sheet pan on my Christmas list!


Of course, I had to try these pans out in order to review them, so I decided to make a batch of the Sugar Cookie Bars I posted about back in September. When I started this blog, I told myself that I would make something brand new every week, but these bars were too delicious to resist making a second time.

The recipe calls for using a half-sheet pan, so last time I ended up using two 9x13-inch pans. This time, I used just one of my new jelly roll pans, and the bars came out perfectly! The pans have a good weight to them without being too heavy, and I had no problem with the bars sticking. I'm sure that these pans will be perfect for the pumpkin roll I am planning to bake this Christmas. In the meantime, I'm going to break them in with cookies, brownies, and maybe even a few more sugar cookie bars!

FTC Disclaimer: I received this product for free from csnstores.com; however, all opinions stated above are my own.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting


I can't think of anything to say about these cupcakes that isn't completely obvious. Firstly, they are obviously delicious. You will probably eat at least three of them, get a terrible stomachache, and still seriously consider eating another one. I may or may not be speaking from experience.


Secondly, my decorating skills are obviously in need of improvement. Even Carson Kressley would have a hard time making these cupcakes feel pretty. Thirdly, I am obviously referencing the hit Lifetime reality show How to Look Good Naked, of which Carson Kressley is the host. Stay with me, people. 


Fourthly, once you try these cupcakes, you will think about them at least once a month until it is seasonally appropriate to make them again. (I've been thinking about them since last Thanksgiving). Fifthly, I have never used the word "fifthly" before.  I think it's time for me to get some sleep.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
15 ounces pumpkin puree

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together sugars, butter, and eggs. Stir in dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.

3. Divide batter evenly among liners. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center cupcake comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 pounds cream cheese
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Beat cream cheese and butter about 2 minutes in an electric mixer on medium speed.

2. Add vanilla and beat 1 minute more.

3. Reduce the mixer to low, and add powdered sugar gradually. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, increase speed to medium and beat until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add additional powdered sugar if needed to reach desired consistency.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Monster Cookies


Four years ago I started my first quarter at the University of Washington, and I lived in Haggett Hall. Worst dorms on campus. Fact, not opinion. Luckily, my roommate was one of my best friends from high school. Even more luckily, my roommate's mom sent her a care package on the first day of school. I'm sure there were a lot of things in that package, but all I remember is chewy cookies filled with oats, chocolate chips, and m&m's, which my roommate kindly shared with me. Four years is a long time to remember a specific cookie, so I thought it would be the perfect thing to bake in celebration of Stephen and I finally moving into our newly purchased condo.


Unlike Haggett Hall, our new condo is beautiful. I love everything about it. But most of all, I love the kitchen. It has a refrigerator with an ice maker in the door (fancy!), plenty of space for all of my bakeware, underlit cabinets, and an island with room for two or three barstools. Having had no time to bake during the last two weeks of packing and moving and working, I couldn't wait to break it in.


Although I didn't actually get this recipe from my roommate's mom, these cookies were exactly what I was hoping for. They are incredibly chewy, the oats, m&m's, and chocolate chips provide the perfect amount of crunch, and two whole cups of peanut butter bring it all together. You should probably make these as soon as possible. And since you'll end up with about 3 dozen cookies, you should send the leftovers to someone who has to live in a horrible dorm room. You have no idea how much they'll appreciate it!


Monster Cookies
Adapted from Piece of Cake

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
5-3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1-1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup m&m's

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and oats.

2. In an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer to low speed, and gradually beat in the sugars.

3. Add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the corn syrup and vanilla, and beat until combined.

4. Add the peanut butter and beat just until smooth. Gradually add the dry ingredients until fully incorporated.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and briefly mix by hand using a spoon or spatula to ensure that all ingredients are combined. Fold in chocolate chips and m&m's. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for as long as you can wait. I lasted 3 hours.

6. Preheat the oven to 375˚F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into balls using a small ice cream scoop, and place them on the cookie sheets about two inches apart.

7. Bake 6-8 minutes, rotate the cookie sheets, then bake another 6-8 minutes or until the cookies just start to brown. Cool the cookies on the pans for 5-10 minutes before transferring to wire racks.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins


Have you read my About Me page yet? If you have, you probably won't be surprised to learn that I am the type of person who always has a plan. And even when I don't intend to have a plan, I usually end up making one subconsciously. This is just one of my many neurotic tendencies that my loved ones (read: Stephen) have learned to love (read: tolerate) about me.

Needless to say, I don't like it when my plans don't work out. I hate having to scramble, rush, or improvise at the last minute. At the very least, it's annoying and inconvenient. Take today, for example: Stephen and I had planned to get some onion rings at Sonic (yum!), see The Social Network, and pick out a plant for our new condo. Instead, Stephen got called into work. Annoying and inconvenient, right?


Once in a while though, things don't go as planned, and it works out for the better. Which brings me to these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. I had planned to make Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread, but I ended up with muffins when I ran out of time to bake the batter in loaf pans.

In this case, I can't really be upset about my plan not working out because these muffins turned out to be exactly what I wanted. They're loaded with bittersweet and semisweet chocolate chips, and the cinnamon and nutmeg perfectly complement the pumpkin. In fact, they are so delicious, they didn't even need the cinnamon powdered sugar glaze that I had planned to use. I did still drizzle it on top of a couple muffins though. You know, just for good measure.


Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

2/3 cup shortening
2-2/3 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups pumpkin
2/3 cup water
3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two 12-cup muffins tins with paper liners or grease with nonstick spray.

2. Cream the shortening at medium speed for about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and continue to cream at medium speed until combined. Whisk together eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, and water in a separate bowl. Add to the creamed shortening and sugar with the mixer at medium-low speed.

3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Reserve about 1/3 of this mixture, and add the rest to the wet ingredients at low speed just until fully incorporated.

4. In a small bowl, combine the reserved flour mixture with the chocolate chips, making sure that all chips are coated. Stir into the batter with a spoon. Note: The reserved flour mixture will help prevent the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the batter.

5. Bake muffins at 350˚F for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center muffin comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

6. If desired, drizzle with a cinnamon powdered sugar glaze made of 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon, and 1-2 tablespoons milk.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pumpkin Scones


I have to admit something: I am one of those Starbucks people. And by that, I mean that I am one of those people who, on a regular basis, spends over $4 for a latté that probably costs 75¢ to make. And by "on a regular basis," I mean daily, without exception.

Although I love Starbucks products, what really keeps me going back is the atmosphere. I love how everything--from the menu to the merchandise to the music--changes seasonally. And of course, we all know that my favorite season is fall. Needless to say, I almost squealed (really, I almost did!) when I walked into Starbucks a few weeks ago and saw that Pumpkin Spice Lattés and Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins were finally back on the menu. But you know what I was even more excited about? The pumpkin scones, which had migrated from the bottom shelf of the pastry case to the highly-coveted top left shelf closest to the register.


If you, like me, are a Starbucks regular, you may know that these delicious scones are actually available year-round. But as long as I'm admitting things, I should tell you that I am one of those people who only eats breakfast food for breakfast, only listens to Christmas music after Thanksgiving, and only eats pumpkin scones during fall.

When I found a recipe for pumpkin scones that look exactly like the ones I have grown to love so much, I knew I had to try it out. I had never made scones before, so I was a little skeptical when the dough was too sticky and I couldn't form it into a rectangle and the glaze seemed too thick. . . but I refused to give up! And it's a good thing I didn't.




All modesty aside, my scones came out perfectly. Perfectly soft, perfectly spiced, perfectly sweet. I'm sorry, Starbucks, but you won't be receiving my $2 for your pumpkin scones anymore. Somehow, I think you'll survive.

Pumpkin Scones
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

2 cups all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
6 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 tablespoons half-and-half
1 large egg

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and drop into the dry ingredients. With clean hands, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly and no large chunks of butter remain.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, half-and-half, and egg. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and form the dough into a ball. On a floured surface, form the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Cut the dough into triangles or use a cookie or biscuit cutter to cut out shapes.

4. Bake the scones on the prepared baking sheet for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

5. To make the powdered sugar glaze, whisk together 1 cup + 1 tablespoon powdered sugar with 2 tablespoons milk until smooth. One at a time, set each scone upside down in the glaze and pull straight out. Allow the glaze to set for 1-2 minutes, then dip each scone a second time.

6. To make the spiced glaze, combine 1 cup + 3 tablespoons powdered sugar with 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 pinch ground ginger, and 1 pinch ground cloves. Whisk in 2 tablespoons milk until smooth. Using a spoon, drizzle the spiced glaze over the scones as desired.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sweet Potato Doughnuts with Maple Glaze







I absolutely love fall. I'm guessing you love fall too, because really, who doesn't? But you probably don't love fall quite as much as I do. If you ask me, the other seasons simply exist to allow my anticipation and excitement for fall to build. I can't even wait until summer is officially over; as soon as September begins, I get the overwhelming urge to do fall things. For me, this includes one or more of the following:


I've already done most of these things at least once this year, and fall only officially started a week ago! Today, I baked my first fall-themed recipe. Having been inspired by my (mostly) successful first attempt at doughnuts, I decided to try another doughnut recipe, and this one sounded decidedly autumnal.



The first doughnuts I made were yeast-raised, whereas these doughnuts are leavened by a combination of baking powder and baking soda. I thought that they would end up being like cake doughnuts, but they really weren't. The texture was actually very similar to the aforementioned yeast doughnuts.


The flavor was good, but not as great as expected. I am inclined to blame this on the fact that I am not a very skilled deep-fryer, nor do I really have the proper equipment to do so. But fear not! I love doughnuts more than the average person, and I am determined to produce perfect doughnuts at home eventually. Until then, good doughnuts are better than no doughnuts at all!

Sweet Potato Doughnuts with Maple Glaze
Adapted from Paula Deen
Yield: 10-12 doughnuts, plus doughnut holes

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mashed sweet potato
Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions:

1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl.

2. Using a stand mixer, beat together eggs, sour cream, and sweet potato until combined. Reduce the speed to "stir," and gradually add the flour mixture.

3. Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface. The dough will be very sticky, so knead in flour with your hands until the dough reaches the consistency at which it can be rolled with a rolling pin. Roll the dough out to 1/2-inch thickness.

4. Cut out doughnuts with a doughnut-cutter or round cookie cutters (2-1/4-inch and 3/4-inch). You may re-roll the dough as needed.

5. In a large pot, heat vegetable oil over medium heat to 360˚F. Cook the doughnuts and doughnut holes in batches 2 minutes per side or until lightly browned. Be sure not to fry too many at once, or it may lower the temperature of the oil. Drain the doughnuts on paper towels after removing from oil.

6. Prepare the Maple Glaze: In a small bowl, combine 2-2/3 cups powdered sugar with 1/4 cup milk. Stir well, and add additional milk to reach the desired consistency. Add 1/4 teaspoon maple extract and whisk to combine.

7. Dip doughnuts in maple glaze and allow them to set for 1-2 minutes. If desired, dip doughnuts a second time to create a thicker layer of glaze.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fudge Cake with Chocolate Frosting





You may find this shocking, but for most of my life I did not like cake. I have to attribute this to the fact that my experiences with cake were mostly limited to what was served at birthday parties, which more often than not were grocery store bakery cakes. I absolutely hated (and still hate to this day) that fluffy, gritty, way-too-sweet frosting with confetti sprinkles. Gross.


Needless to say, my feelings about cake changed when I started baking them myself, and cake and I are now on very good terms. My favorite is carrot cake (with cream cheese frosting, of course!), but Stephen, who always prefers things that are simple and classic, loves chocolate cake. The fudge cake I made this week is actually his (somewhat belated) birthday cake, and in his words, it is unbelievable.


I did run into a couple problems along the way to the finished product, but as you'll see, all's well that ends well. My first problem was that I don't have a food processor, so I had to chop the baking chocolate by hand. Since I couldn't get the chocolate as finely chopped as a food processor would have, there were tiny chocolate chunks throughout the batter. 


Most of the chunks melted while the cake was baking, but there were still bits and pieces in the finished cake. Luckily, Stephen had actually requested a chocolate cake with chocolate chunks, which I had forgotten about, but ended up doing by accident anyway! Success.

The other problem I encountered was that the frosting didn't "lighten and hold its shape" like it was supposed to. Having been thwarted by this problem before, I decided to just pour the frosting onto the warm cake and let it set up overnight. I felt a little rebellious for not following the instructions, but my gamble ended up paying off. The frosting was rich and fudgey, and it was the perfect complement to the delicate chocolate flavor of the cake. This is definitely the best chocolate cake I've made so far, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


Fudge Cake with Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from Alton Brown

For the cake:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2-1/4 cups brown sugar
3 large eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup boiling water

For the frosting:

1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup unsalted butter
2-1/2 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter and flour a 9x13-inch rectangular pan.

2. Finely chop the baking chocolate by hand or using a food processor until only very small chunks of chocolate remain. Combine the chocolate with the flour, baking soda, and salt, and whisk to combine.

3. Beat together the eggs and vanilla extract.

4. Cream the butter in an electric mixer on medium speed for about one minute. Add the brown sugar gradually until all of the butter disappears into the sugar.

5. Reduce the speed to stir. Add the egg/vanilla mixture gradually, scraping down the bowl as needed.

6. Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two batches of sour cream.

7. Add the boiling water and continue mixing until the batter is free of lumps. The batter will be very loose.

8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300˚F and bake for another 30 minutes. The cake is done when the internal temperature is between 175˚F-180˚F. A cake tester will come out clean halfway between the edge and the center, but will not come out clean in the center. The cake will continue to cook as it cools.

9. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring it to a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting. Or, do what I did, and pour the frosting onto the cake while it is still warm and allow it to set for several hours or overnight.

To make the frosting: Combine the chocolate, cream, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until melted and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the powdered sugar. When the sugar is completely dissolved, place the pan in a bowl filled with ice and beat with a hand mixer until the frosting lightens and holds its shape.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sugar Cookie Bars


I have been wanting to make these bars ever since I first saw them on And Now For Something Completely Delicious. This recipe takes something incredibly delicious (frosted sugar cookies, duh!) and makes them incredibly easy to make (by turning them into bars). There's no waiting for the dough to chill in the refrigerator. No rolling the dough out and inevitably having it get stuck to the countertop. No cutting out cute little shapes that aren't so cute after they tear when you're trying to transport them to the pan. No waiting for batch after batch of cookies to bake and cool before you can frost them.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy this process from time to time; you can definitely look forward to adorable shaped and frosted sugar cookies around Christmastime. But on a Wednesday? Sugar cookie bars are the way to go.

I don't have much to say about these bars except that they are delicious. And addicting. And completely adorable when topped with pink frosting and rainbow nonpareils. Fact: the frosting will coat your mouth with butter, the taste of which will linger for several hours. Don't worry, I think you can handle it.

I didn't realize until I was in the middle of making the dough that I only had about 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract left, so I ended up having to substitute 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract. The frosting also called for 1 tablespoon of vanilla, which I substituted with only 2 teaspoons of almond. . . because that was all I had left. Whoops. (This is probably why the butter flavor was so prominent in the frosting). The almond was actually very good, but I definitely want to try this recipe again with vanilla!

Sugar Cookie Bars
Adapted from And Now For Something Completely Delicious
Yield: 24 bars

For the cookie dough:

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For the frosting:

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4-5 tablespoons milk
Pinch of salt

Directions:


1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Grease a 13x18-inch sheet pan or two 9x13-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside. In an electric mixture, cream the butter for about one minute. Gradually add the sugar to the butter and cream together until light and fluffy.

3. Lightly whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Gradually add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla.

4. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined.

5. Press the cookie dough into the pan(s). To spread the dough evenly, coat your fingertips with cooking spray and gently press the dough toward the edges of the pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

6. For the frosting: Cream together the shortening and butter. Mix in the vanilla and slat. Gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing after each addition. Cream together on medium-high for about a minute. Add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time, until the frosting reaches a light, spreadable consistency.

7. Spread the frosting onto the cooled cookies. Slice into bars.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Outrageous Brownies


You may recall that I made chocolate brownies just four weeks ago. Generally, my goal is to make something entirely new to me each week, but I am making two exceptions: chocolate chip cookies and chocolate brownies. Why? I am hoping to find my absolute favorite recipe for each of these universally popular treats among the thousands upon thousands that are out there.

I have to admit, I was pretty underwhelmed by the last brownie recipe I used. They were too thick and cakey. I prefer a brownie that is chewy with a flaky crust and about 1/2-inch thick. I have to confess, I actually love brownies that come from a boxed mix, and I am hoping to find a from-scratch recipe that produces the same texture and flavor.

This week, I chose Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies for two reasons. First, I already tried her Peanut Swirl Brownies, and I suspect that Outrageous Brownies are the same recipe, sans peanut butter. Second, this recipe has 150 reviews on Food Network's website and a solid five-star rating. I don't always agree with the majority opinion, but I decided to trust it on this one!


I'm much happier with these brownies than I was with the last ones I baked. They are intensely chocolate-y and almost melt in your mouth when you bite into them. My only complaint is that they are very crumbly, but I'm sure this is because I used large eggs instead of extra-large. I definitely recommend this recipe--just make sure you have someone to share these with because you're going to have a lot of brownies on your hands!

Outrageous Brownies
Adapted from Ina Garten
Yield: 20 large brownies

1 pound unsalted butter
28 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons instant coffee granules (omitted)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts (omitted)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Prepare a 12x18x1-inch baking sheet or two 9x13-inch baking sheets.

2. In a bowl over simmering water, melt together the butter, one pound of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate. Allow the mixture to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture and allow to cool.

4. In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of the flour, the baking powder, and the salt. Stir into the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and remaining chocolate chips in a small bowl with the remaining flour. Add this to the chocolate batter, and pour the batter into the baking sheet(s).

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars or squares.