Friday, May 27, 2011

"The Chewy" Pretzel Cookie


This week, Charlie asked me for a chocolate chip cookie in her lunch, but I wanted to make something a bit different. I hadn't yet tried Alton Brown's famous Chewy cookie recipe, and since I had all the ingredients on hand. I decided to give it  a go.

We really liked the combination of pretzels and chocolate chip cookies in the Chocolate Chunk Pretzel Bars I made awhile back, so I decided to add some pretzels to these cookies as well. These make a nice, chewy but sturdy cookie, with crispy edges. While the texture is great, I found the flavor a bit underwhelming. I prefer a richer, butterscotch flavor in this kind of cookie. However, my tasters loved them, and they keep well for a few days.

Baker's Notes: I weighed my ingredients, then went back and measured the volume, for those of you without a scale. Bread flour is available in supermarkets, I keep mine in in zipper-top bags in the freezer, since I don't use it frequently. If I make these again, I'd swap dark brown sugar for the light, for the richer flavor.



The Chewy Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie
adapted from foodnetwork.com
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 12 ounces bread flour  (around 2 ½ cups)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ounces granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces light brown sugar (1 ¼ cups)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 ounce whole milk (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped pretzels

Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda onto a paper plate or a piece of waxed paper. Pour the butter into your stand mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the whole egg, the egg yolk, milk and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Reduce the mixer speed and slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

Using the paper plate as a slide, gradually integrate the dry ingredients, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the flour is worked in, drop the speed to "stir" and add the chocolate chips. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F and place racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven.

Scoop the dough into 1 1/2-ounce portions onto lined half sheet pans, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake 2 sheets at a time for 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. [I used a medium-sized cookie scoop, eight cookies to a pan, and baked them one at a time on the center rack for 11 minutes].

Remove from the oven, slide the parchment with the cookies onto a cooling rack and wait at least 5 minutes before devouring. If you're using silpat, let cool for a few minutes before moving the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

These cookies keep well, compared to most chocolate chip cookies, stored in an airtight container.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Easier Key Lime Pie



It's finally warming up here in Chicago, not warm enough yet for local strawberries, but enough to make me crave something cool and tart. Plus, limes were 10 for a dollar at my local grocer.

I was happy with my last Key Lime Pie, it's creamy and a bit puckery, which is how I like my pie. It is, however, a bit fussy to make. Over at the relish dish, a blog from Relish Magazine, Jill made a more classic key lime pie with only a few ingredients. Her technique was different though, you beat the heck out of the filling so it's fluffier. She got the idea from the Beachwalk Cafe in Florida while on vacation. Whatever the source, we loved this pie. Classic key lime flavor but a bit lighter in texture. I love graham cracker crusts and this one is substantial, so it holds up to the tart filling. This was an easy pie to make, and I'll definitely be serving it again.

Baker's Notes: The original recipe called for more cinnamon and nutmeg as an option, I thought a pinch or so was fine, but not essential. I never buy cracker crumbs, I just whiz them in the food processor, but do what you like. The recipe calls for regular limes and they are more plentiful and easier to juice than the smaller ones. I have some Boyajian Lime Oil in my pantry, which I will use a bit of next time to amp up the lime even more, but I wanted to keep it simple today. The whipped cream in the photo isn't from a can, I have a whipped cream dispenser, which makes and stores cream so you can top your desserts as needed.

Beachwalk Cafe Key Lime Pie
adapted from: therelishdish.com

Crust   
  •     2    cups    graham crackers crumbs  -- from almost two sleeves of crackers
  •     3    tablespoons    dark brown sugar
  •     pinch    ground cinnamon (optional)
  •     small pinch    ground nutmeg (optional)
  •     6    tablespoons    unsalted butter -- melted
  •     small pinch    salt
Filling
  •     4    large    egg yolks -- at room temperature
  •     grated zest from one lime
  •     14 oz can    sweetened condensed milk
  •     ½    cup   fresh lime juice -- from 5-6 limes
          
Combine crust ingredients in 9-inch pie plate. Press to form a crust. Chill 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixer bowl using the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and zest on high speed for 8 minutes. Don’t skimp on this time– the eggs must be fluffy and well aerated. Gradually add the condensed milk and continue to beat until all of the milk is added and the filling is fluffy, about 6 -7 minutes. On low speed slowly add the key lime juice until evenly blended.  Beat 2 minutes. Pour filling into chilled pie shell.

Bake until filling appears set, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, cool completely.  Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours, or overnight.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mexican Chocolate Streusel Brownies



I love Mexican chocolate in the winter. If you've never had Mexican chocolate, it's a blend of chocolate, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon that you melt in milk and then whisk into a deliciously spicy chocolate froth. So when I came across this recipe for brownies, I couldn't wait to try it. The Mexican chocolate is only in the topping, giving it a crunchy chocolate almond flavor. The brownies are made with regular unsweetened chocolate, and are nice and fudgy. I usually prefer a chewier texture, but the fudgy brownie is a great contrast to the crunchy streusel. These look great on the plate and would be a great addition to bake sales and picnics.


Baker's Notes: Mexican chocolate is carried in most supermarkets, it's usually in the ethnic foods aisle. Using the original recipe as a starting point, I decreased the cinnamon and almond extract and added espresso powder, yet I still thought the almond extract was overpowering. I'll keep tinkering until I get it just right, these brownies are worth it. I always chill my brownies for awhile before slicing, so the cuts are even. If you're chilling them overnight before slicing, make sure to wrap them well in plastic so they don't dry out.


Mexican Chocolate Streusel Brownies
adapted from myrecipes.com

Brownies
  •     ¾    cup    butter -- (6 oz) cut into chunks
  •     9    oz    unsweetened chocolate -- finely chopped
  •     1 ½    cups    firmly packed brown sugar
  •     1    cup    granulated sugar
  •     5    large    eggs
  •     1 ½    tablespoons    vanilla extract
  •     1     teaspoon    almond extract (I'm using less next time)
  •     1 ½    cups    all-purpose flour
  •     1     teaspoon    ground cinnamon
  •     ½    teaspoon    baking powder
  •     ½    teaspoon    salt
  •     ½    teaspoon    espresso powder
Streusel
  •     ½    cup    all-purpose flour
  •     ¼    cup    brown sugar -- firmly packed
  •     5    tablespoons    unsalted butter -- cold
  •     4 ½    ounces    Mexican chocolate -- (like Ibarra brand), coarsely chopped


Preheat oven to 325°F.  Rinse a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cold water, shake out the excess but do not dry. Flip the pan over, and place an 18 inch piece of foil, shiny side down, over the pan, and then mold the foil over the pan. Remove the foil, flip the pan back over, and line the pan with the foil. The drops of water will help the foil cling to the pan. Butter or spray the foil (you can use the butter wrapper).

In a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stir butter and unsweetened chocolate until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stir in vanilla and almond extract. Stir in flour, cinnamon, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt until well blended.

Spread batter level in the baking pan. Squeeze handfuls of the Mexican chocolate streusel until it sticks together, then crumble into chunks evenly over surface of batter.

Bake brownies in a 325° oven until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack for an hour, then chill for another 30-60 minutes. Lift the brownies from the pan using the foil, then slice with a sharp knife into 24 or 32 squares.

Mexican chocolate streusel. In a food processor or a bowl, whirl or stir all-purpose flour and brown sugar until well blended. Add butter and whirl or rub in with your fingers until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Pulse in coarsely chopped Mexican chocolate (some larger chunks will remain), or chop finely with a knife and stir into flour mixture. Use immediately or chill airtight for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies



I had taken a couple months off from baking for the Night Ministry during tax season, but I really missed it. Not because I'm such a sharing and caring kind of gal (although I totally am), but I love to make big batches of chewy, satisfying cookies. I've made these for bake sales as well, they were a big hit. Usually, anything made with peanut butter and chocolate sells well at a bake sale, add some oatmeal and even the health conscious will indulge.

This only makes about 60 2½-inch cookies, which is small by big batch standards, but more than enough for the cookie jar. If you're not making them to give away, consider scooping out the dough onto a lined cookie sheet, freezing the dough balls until solid, then packing them in a freezer bag for another day. That way, you can have fresh cookies in minutes for guests or a weeknight treat. Just remember when baking from frozen dough to give the cookies a couple extra minutes in the oven.

Baker's Notes: This recipe is pretty great as is, I've made it twice now to rave reviews. I do wonder about the cocoa powder, should I increase it next time so the cookie has a stronger chocolate flavor? In this case, I think the cocoa adds to the texture of the cookie more than the flavor. I did increase the salt just a bit, I think the oatmeal needs it.


Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Midwest Living

  •     3    cups  all-purpose flour
  •     2    cups   rolled oats
  •     3    tablespoons   unsweetened cocoa powder (natural, like Hershey's)
  •     2    teaspoons    baking soda
  •     heaping ½   teaspoon   salt (use less if using salted butter)
  •     2    cups    unsalted butter
  •     1    cup    chunky peanut butter
  •     1 ½    cups    sugar
  •     1 ½    cups    brown sugar -- packed
  •     3    eggs
  •     2    teaspoons   vanilla extract
  •     3    cups    semisweet chocolate chips


 In a bowl, stir together the flour, oats, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and peanut butter with an electric mixer until combined. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat the mixture well.

Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Stir in the semisweet chocolate pieces. Cover and rest the dough for an hour at room temperature or store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets.

Bake cookies for 12 to 14 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Let cool for 1 minute on cookie sheet before removing to wire rack. Makes about 60 cookies.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Silky Chocolate Frosting


The other day, Charlie asked me to help her make cupcakes for a friend's birthday. I was pleased, not just that Charlie wanted to bake and spend a little time with me, but that she knows baking is about sharing. It's one thing to have your child ask you to pick up some cupcakes at the supermarket on the way to school, but kids at Charlie's school typically take public transit, so toting a box of treats along with a heavy knapsack, well, that's a true friend.

Truthfully, she could handle the cupcakes on her own, she just needed some help with the frosting. We thought about making a ganache, but we were fresh out of cream. So I experimented with this frosting I'd been playing around with, one I could whip up quickly, using strictly pantry ingredients.

We were both very pleased with the results. Not fluffy, not achingly sweet, but not a pan frosting either, this one was just right. The chips deliver a surprisingly strong chocolate flavor, and the texture is ultra silky, like a french buttercream.

Baker's Notes: It's important to let the chocolate cool a bit after melting, you don't want to melt the butter. The espresso is optional, I just like the way it enhances the chocolate. The frosted cupcakes remained stable and tasty for 3 days at room temperature.



Silky Chocolate Frosting
inspired by an Ina Garten recipe


  •     1½    cups    chocolate chips
  •     ½    teaspoon    instant espresso -- (optional)
  •     2    sticks    unsalted butter -- (8 ounces) at room temperature
  •     ½    cup    powdered sugar
  •     a    pinch of  salt (omit if using salted butter)
  •     1    teaspoon    vanilla extract

This was enough frosting for 2 dozen cupcakes, might need to increase for layer cakes.

Begin by melting the chocolate chips, you can either use the microwave or the double boiler. I like to use a 2-cup glass measuring cup in the microwave at 70% power, stirring every 30 seconds. Otherwise, use a double boiler or saucepan with 1 inch of simmering water in the bottom, stirring often. In either case, it's important to stop the heat well before the chocolate is fully melted. Add the espresso powder, if using, and stir very well until the chocolate is completely melted and the espresso is fully incorporated. Set aside, and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, beat the butter with the sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate, then the vanilla, and continue beating until a frosting texture is achieved.

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