Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Seattle Chocolate Scene: I am SO there

We all know that there's a pretty happening music scene in Seattle. There's also a huge following for green and natural living. And some of the best seafood in the country can be found in this region. What I was unaware of, until recently, was just how big chocolate is becoming out here. And not just fancy creations at top restaurants and bakeries, but the entire process of making delicious artisan confections, many times from bean to chocolate box.

Speaking of chocolate boxes, one particular epicenter of Northwest chocolates is the Chocolate Box, located on Pine Street just across the street from the famed Pike Place Market. It is here that one can find the entire range of local chocolates from a selection of both renowned and up-and-coming chocolatiers.

To me, the shop is slightly Willy Wonka-esque in the variety of chocolate products to sample: there is everything from the elegant truffle to Aztec spicy hot chocolate to the grand red velvet cake. Even those in need of a gluten-free sugar fix can find something for their fancy here, and the crowd at any given moment ranges from delighted children who, incidentally, are excited to be in a candy shop, to curious tourists interested in picking up a piece of Seattle to bring back to their hometowns, to the local businessperson whom the baristas recognize and greet with a familiar smile and their regular mocha espresso order ready at the counter.

Once the initial overload of chocolatey sensation passes (first there is the smell, then the sight, then – inevitably – the taste), one is able to calm salivation and bring focus to what each local chocolatier has to offer. And that selection is vast.

Here's a brief rundown of some of the Chocolate Box mainstays.

Theo Chocolate: the first roaster of Fair Trade Certified cocoa beans and the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the United States, conveniently located in the Fremont section of Seattle.

Fiori Chocolatiers: Specializing in the truffle chocolates, they create unique Italian-style confections in small, carefully tended batches.

Chocolate Vitale: Using old family recipes, they manufacture startlingly decadent chocolate drinks like European sipping chocolate and Chocolate crème tea.

Oh! Chocolate: Beautifully made artisan chocolate pieces made with premium chocolate, in the French tradition.

In browsing the shelves, one will find a variety of other local chocolates in bar form, nib form, powder form...nearly every form imaginable. There are sea-salt caramels and actual sugar plums and white chocolate made from San Francisco goat's milk. Novelty chocolate box sets sport Barack Obama's face, and one can sample chocolates with names like “burnt brown sugar” and “Sri Lanka Curry.” Of course, there is also a veritable mountain of plain, old-fashioned chocolate, in nearly any cacao percentage one can dream of, all the way to Theo's incredibly earthy 91% cacao chocolate bar.

It's not simply that I love chocolate or that I might as well build a shrine to sugar in my apartment; a place like the Chocolate Box goes beyond offering rain-dampened customers with a warm drink or satisfying chocolate bar. This chocolate shop is a celebration of a very local, very fine market of chocolates that oozes the character of the Pacific Northwest. Sampling a confection here is not merely eating a piece of chocolate, but it truly is partaking in a piece of Seattle.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wait, one more cookie recipe!

Okay, so I lied a little. I presumed that I would be so wrapped up in preparing for my move that I would have no time to put aside to do any baking whatsoever. Well, given my tendency to over-plan, I should have realized early on that I would, in fact, have a few minutes between the packing and organizing and cleaning to relax in the company of a warm oven. More than a few minutes, of course. So after looking through Better Homes and Gardens' selection of all-time favorite cookie recipes, I found one that sounded both delicious and slightly familiar: Peanut Butter Munchies. What these are, are chocolate cookies with a creamy peanut butter filling, and they reminded me of the Tagalongs that I sold as a girl scout, and later consumed as a layperson.
I had always been slightly hesitant to try baking filled cookies, because similar to pie or cheesecake recipes, I have been burdened with the preconceived notion that they are difficult, complicated, and take much too much time to put together. Of course, I'm very wrong in that assumption, and I'm glad that I had this recipe around to set me straight.

The cookies and the filling are pretty straightforward to create and assemble. The recipe also has the added benefit of getting my hands dirty with dough in order to put together the final product. If I can stick my hands in it, and work with the dough myself without the aid of a spoon or mixer, then I know I've given a little bit extra to my cookies, and likely that I enjoyed the preparation even more. And it was fun to put together these cookies. It helped, of course, that they yielded scrumptious results. I refrained from over stuffing the cookies with peanut butter filling, but I used just enough so that every bite would deliver at least a tiny amount of peanut butter, which is what really makes the cookies stand out. Though the chocolate part is also delicious, it is a basic dough, and really benefits from a little something extra. The granulated sugar added at the very end, on the bottom of a glass or spoon, also gives the cookies an air of holiday festivity, which makes them a perfect addition to the Christmas Cookie Lexicon.

Peanut Butter Munchies

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. In a large mixing bowl beat together butter, the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and the 1/4 cup peanut butter with an electric mixer until combined. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; beat well. Beat in dry ingredients with mixer. Form chocolate dough into 32 balls about 1-1/4 inches in diameter. Set aside.
2. For peanut butter filling, in a medium mixing bowl combine powdered sugar and the remaining 1/2 cup peanut butter until smooth. Shape mixture into 32 (3/4-inch) balls.
3. On a work surface, slightly flatten a chocolate dough ball and top with a peanut butter ball. Shape the chocolate dough over the peanut butter filling, completely covering the filling. Roll dough into a ball. Repeat with the remaining chocolate dough and peanut butter filling balls.
4. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Lightly flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in the 2 tablespoons granulated sugar.
5. Bake cookies in preheated oven for 8 minutes or until they're just set and surface is slightly cracked. Let cookies stand for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to wire racks; cool.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

On hiatus for the big move

December is normally my favorite baking month, for all the obvious reasons: Christmas tortes, Christmas fudge, Christmas cakes, Christmas candy, Christmas cheesecake...and of course, Christmas cookies. Every year, I spread my own variety of buttery, chocolatey holiday cheer with an assortment of confections, many of which are old favorites that have already built a following amongst my friends. I make Chocolate Crinkles, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Coconut Meringues, Gingerbread People, Russian Tea Cookies: so many of the standard holiday favorites. And naturally, I love to try one or two new recipes to try out.
This year, however, there is a significant change in plans. Instead of cheerfully cloistering myself in my kitchen, I'm packing up my belongings and moving to Seattle. In just a little more than a week, I'll officially give up my identity as a Brooklynite and begin the transformation into a Seattlite, a change for which I'm thoroughly thrilled. But, because a cross-country move is quite...involved, I won't be able to bake my treasured array of Christmas cookies, and therefore, will not be able to blog about them.
Once everything comes together, I'm hoping to have a fully stocked kitchen and a new assortment of taste-testers for my recipes, but in the meantime, the best I can do is report on the Seattle bakeries that I fully intend on patronizing. That, and offer some links to the cookie collections that I would be creating if not for this change of scenery.

Happy baking!

The Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies

Martha Stewart's Cookie of the Day

Betty Crocker's Cookie Exchange

Epicurious' 25 Days of Christmas Cookies

Better Homes and Gardens' Cookie Exchange Favorites

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies like the Bakeries Do Them

There’s something extra special about walking into a bakery or a café and seeing an array of clear plastic jars lining the counter, all filled with different varieties of extra-large cookies: the kind that one’s mother seldom, if ever, would bake in her kitchen. These are exceptional, in their size and in their taste, and no matter the quality of other homemade chocolate chip cookies, the glass-jar kind are of a seemingly unusual breed.

In reality, though, this is not entirely the case. Yes, there are singularities to these behemoth cookies, but once the secret is known they are exceedingly simple to make at home. The only thing that really needs to be done is a small adjustment of ingredients.

That’s what I did with these extra-large chocolate chip cookies, slightly modified from a recipe on Baking Bites. The secret is in the extra helping of brown sugar and vanilla extract, with a decrease in granulated sugar making them richer than the average cookie. The cooking time is also increased, in order to thoroughly bake through, and I allowed the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes longer than I would normally allow before transferring them to wire sheets. For my trial recipe, though, I used one part applesauce to one part butter, as I sometimes experiment with when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, in order to see how the consistency would be affected. As a result, my cookies did not spread as wide, but they still had a wonderful chunkiness and chewiness that I find very appealing in the bakery style cookies, but without so much of a buttery taste.

Giant Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen
Ingredients:

1 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies/puffed rice cereal
2 cups chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugars and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the sugar mixture, followed by rice krispies and chocolate chips.
Using a 1/4 cup measure as a spoon, drop 1/4 cup scoops of cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave at least 4 inches between cookies to allow for spread (I put 5 or 6 on a sheet). Cookie dough should be shaped in the 1/4 cup measure, not in a round ball (as this results in the most even baking).
Bake for 13-16 minutes, until cookies are golden at the edge. Remove from oven and let cookies set on cookie sheet for 6-10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Potato Chips and Cookies, Together at Last

When it comes to food, I try my best to be adventurous. I see nothing wrong in sampling a dish that has a strange description or a smattering of unusually paired ingredients, if for no other reason than to say that I tried it. This was the case when I bought a Vosges Bacon Chocolate Bar or when I ordered Egg Cream gelato at Grom in Greenwich Village. So maybe I'm mainly exploratory when it comes to sweets, but to be fair, I go out for dessert much more often than I go out for a regular meal. But I still spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, and I've been thinking that my confectionary open-mindedness should extend beyond what other chefs are trying and into my own repertoire. Which is why I was pleased to have found a cookie recipe that I had not seen before; I had not seen even similar types of cookies in the past. The name "Potato Chip Cookie" is, to me, not very appetizing, but only because I'm not a fan of potato chips in general. However, when I thought about it, I love chocolate covered pretzels, with the mixture of sweet and salty, and so perhaps potato chips in cookie dough would not be so far-fetched. The final product turned out quite well, in my opinion (and the opinion of my co-workers!). The potato chips gave the cookies a bit of extra fluffiness but they did not give themselves away: as unwitting tasters tested the cookies, none were able to identify the secret ingredient, but many agreed that it had a "familiar" flavor. Additionally, the dough is of the standard, buttery variety and is difficult to do much harm to. Personally, these are not my favorite cookies; I found the combination of butter and potato chips to be slightly overwhelming. However, they were a real crowd-pleaser with their crunchy mystery ingredient.

Potato Chip Cookies

Yield: About 3 dozen

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 - 1 1/4 cups crushed potato chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the egg.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt, then stir into butter mixture. Stir in potato chips.
Drop tablespoonfuls (1-inch balls) of dough onto prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2-inches between each cookie to allow room to spread.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until light golden.
Cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Dessert Cornucopia: A Good-bye Feast

While the rain passed through Brooklyn this weekend, I spent most of Saturday in my kitchen creating a buffet of baked goods for a party on Sunday: the three recipes below, and one of my favorites, the Chocolate Crinkle cookies which I wrote about in March. The mini cupcakes were the real winner out of all the choices; everyone enjoyed the hint of sweetness in the cakes paired with the confectioners' sugar of the icing, appreciating the flavor balance along with their cute size. My favorite were the brownies, since I used the Valrhona cocoa powder I had been saving for a special occasion, and they made me realize just how much the quality of the ingredients matter in a baked dish.
It wasn't the cloudy weather that had me pause from time to time, smiling sadly out the window; it's the fact that the countdown has begun until I leave this apartment – and this wonderful, tiny kitchen – for my cross-country move. At the end of November, I'll vacate, hand in my keys, and say goodbye to the counter top and oven that helped me to grow as a baker over the past several months.
Although I'm giving away or selling most of my things, I'm reluctant to part with the kitchen items, not because they are of any great quality, but because my bowls and wisk and measuring spoons remind me of the various new desserts I've tried, the chocolate chip cookies that I've compulsively attempted to perfect, and as always, the delighted reception of my treats. Maybe it's ridiculous, but it is, after all, my first set of baking tools and I don't believe I've worn them down sufficiently yet. So I'm keeping the pink mixing bowls and the plastic measuring cup, and even my requisite Betty Crocker cookbook (amongst a few others).
With a few weeks left, I doubt this will be my last day turning on the oven and pulling the flour from the cupboard, which is a relief. And I only hope that the brownies and the cupcakes and all that I've made have absorbed some of the nostalgia, comfort, and bliss that I've felt myself working around my kitchen this weekend.

Dessert Cornucopia: Valrhona Chocolate Brownies


Valrhona Double Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Valrhona
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9 x 9 inch baking dish.
2. Melt the butter in the microwave (about 45 seconds, but watch to be sure).
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt.
4. Add the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla to the dry ingredients and continue to mix until well combined (but do not overmix). Finally, stir in the chopped chocolate.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool.

Dessert Cornucopia: Baby Cakes


Baby Cakes
Yield: About 48

Adapted from The Food Network

Ingredients:

Cakes:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. fine salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ cup milk
Icing:
1 ½ cup confectioners' sugar
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons milk


Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line the muffin tin with mini cupcake liners.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
3. In another medium bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until light and foamy, about 2 minutes. While beating, gradually pour in the butter and then the vanilla.
While mixing slowly, add half the dry ingredients, then add all the milk, and follow with the rest of the dry ingredients. Take care not to over mix the batter. Divide the batter evenly in the prepared tins (about 2 teaspoon batter per cup cake.)
4. Bake about 15 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack in the tin.
Icing:
Whisk together the confectioners' sugar and milk until smooth and sugar dissolves. Dip the tops of each cake in the glaze, sprinkle with sugar or top with tiny candies and let set.

Dessert Cornucopia: Gingerbread


Gingerbread

From Cooking Light

Ingredients:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup stick margarine or butter, softened
1/3 cup molasses
1 large egg
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2/3 cup 1% low-fat milk
Cooking spray
2 tsp. powdered sugar

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Beat granulated sugar and margarine at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 5 minutes). Add molasses and egg; beat well.
3. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through cloves). Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
4. Pour batter into an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Sift powdered sugar over top of cake, and serve warm.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Candy, candy, candy!

One of my favorite blogs, Jezebel, has posted the inevitable post about candy on this lovely Halloween day. I'm linking to it for a few reasons: I am a Jezebel addict, I am also an M&M addict, and the post focuses on candy; and further, who hates candy?

Happy Halloween!

Have a great Halloween, all! So last night I found myself with a bag of Halloween M&Ms and, of course, all of the regular chocolate chip cookie ingredients. While I watched "The Halloween Tree" on my computer, I stood in my kitchen baking up these cookies (by the way, this show is surely the greatest Halloween special out there. Ray Bradbury is an amazing storyteller). It's my plan to bring them in for my co-workers today, despite recent jokes about the frequency of my baking. I can't help it, though, if this is what I love to do and the workplace is the ideal place to deposit a mass quantity of my food. Anyway, the same co-workers have no qualms with gobbling down every last cookie I bring in, so I'm pretty sure I simply need to work on my sense of humor where baking is concerned.
Hopefully they'll all enjoy the chocolate chip cookies that I made, and maybe one of them will have a recipe for Pan de Muertos, for tomorrow's Day of the Dead.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mm, Mm, Molasses

I came across The Only Bake Sale Cookbook You'll Ever Need the other day when I was in the library perusing cookbooks (I swear, I went in for a real book, but I somehow found myself in this section; the fiction books are directly across from cookbooks, and so if I'm in there picking up a copy of The Road, then why shouldn't I make a quick detour?). Right now, I really don't need any Bake Sale cookbooks, but that's why I chose to check it out of my library rather than invest the actual money to purchase it.

As I skimmed through the pages, I saw several recipes for classic All-American desserts like brownies, blondies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin bars...everything I would expect to see at a bake sale, if I ever attended one. The recipes are simple and generally fairly quick, and they all produce big batches that should sell well to sugar-hungry patrons. At first, I had a difficult time coming across anything breathtaking and show-stopping, but that could be due to the amount of cookbooks I find myself browsing through. But I did find these molasses cookies, and I thought of what a pleasant, spicy autumn cookie these could be.
The directions couldn't be more basic: combine in a bowl. Of course, when mixing the first eight ingredients, the dough is very hard and dry, so I found it better to just jump in and hand-blend the dough a bit, really incorporating the butter into the other ingredients. I also chilled the dough for a couple of hours before baking, which I hear vastly improves the quality of chocolate chip cookies (I also have the proof). All in all, the cookies turned out buttery and soft and sweet enough to not be just another bland spice cookie. Though I will return the cookbook to the library in due time, it itself is a fun guide to the basic cookies, bars, and cakes that we all expect to see in bakeries and peddled at bake sales.

Soft Molasses Drop Cookies

Yield: About 5 dozen

Ingredients:
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup molasses
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ cup hot milk

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets with baking spray.
2. Combine the first eight ingredients, in the order given, in a large bowl and stir to mix.
3. Stir the baking soda and the hot milk together and add to the flour mixture. Stir well until fully combined. Scoop out the dough by tablespoons and drop about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
4. Bake 12-14 minutes until dry but still soft. Cool on the baking sheets for five minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Honey Wheat Bread that did not turn out so sweet

I like to call this time of year the beginning of hibernation season. Already, my slippers have replaced the flip-flops sitting by my front door, the giant fleecy blanket has taken up residence on my futon, and my jar of hot-chocolate mix is sitting on my counter top. I know that we're only awaiting even colder weather, of course, but I'm trying to ease into it. And this weekend has truly been a pleasant help with that: a cool crisp bite to the air, a clear blue sky, a sun that made its presence known without any overbearing heat. Although I chill easily, the only two complaints I have about our autumn are the the swiftness of the sunsets and the shortness of the days...all the less time to enjoy them! But I suppose if I really want a lesson in darkness, I should spend some winter time in Alaska.
Anyway, when I get into my hibernation mode, I don't think I'm alone in the fact that warm, soothing recipes are at the top of my must-try list. When I woke up this morning, I was all set with a pan to make a loaf of Honey Whole Wheat bread. I eagerly anticipated how the aroma would emanate through my apartment and how satisfying a slice would taste with a glass of milk.
Unfortunately, I did something terribly wrong, and even now, I'm not exactly sure of what that might have been. I think perhaps that I did not work with the yeast correctly, or maybe I didn't heat the other ingredients to the right temperature. My guess is that I did something wrong with the yeast; my dough refused to rise at all, even after an hour spent in my oven (not turned on, but always warmed) in hopes of rising. Because of this, I wasn't able to continue with baking, which was a big disappointment. But also within it is a good lesson: though not as much or as frequently with cooking, recipes in baking are finicky and demand precision. If one is too busy reading the first issue of The Food Network magazine to pay careful attention to the mixing bowl in front of her (as a certain baker might have been this morning) then one's Honey Whole Wheat bread might not turn out well.
Well, I seemed to have failed as a baker today. But I do think that this recipe will yield yummy results, and I will try it again sometime soon, myself.


Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Ingredients:
3/4 cup warm water
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour

Directions:

Place the warm water in large bowl. Sprinkle in yeast, stir until dissolved and let stand until creamy. Add the warm milk, honey, oil, salt, and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour; blend well. Stir in whole wheat flour and mix well. Add the remaining all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is soft and workable (there may be some flour left over).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and turn the dough to grease the top. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Punch the dough down and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Form dough into a loaf and place into the prepared pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes or until top is golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove loaf from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Halloween Cookies: Oreos, M&Ms, Chocolate Chips

I have a strange predilection for Halloween Oreos. I occasionally enjoy regular black and white Oreos, and I tend to shy away from the Winter (red creme), Spring (purple creme), and Golden varieties. The Halloween Oreos however, with their unnaturally orange creme, I can't seem to get enough of. Perhaps the recipe they use is ever-so-slightly different, or there is some ingredient in the orange food coloring that gives me an extra endorphin boost. Whatever the reason, I love Halloween Oreos.

I also love M&Ms, but I eat these candies throughout the year, no matter what color combination the Mars company has decided would sell more bags to unwitting consumers.
So given these two sugary fancies, along with my obsession with chocolate chip cookies, one can only imagine the thrill I felt when I was scrolling through the posts on Cookie Madness and found this recipe for chocolate chip cookies with Halloween Oreos and Halloween M&Ms. Toward the end of my preparation, when all of the ingredients sat in the bowl, ready for the final mixing, I noticed how festive these cookies appeared, and how decorative they would look on the buffet table at a kid's Halloween party or at a school's October bake sale. With the bright colors and the familiarity of the ingredients, I could see just how whimsical a tray of these cookies would be for a group of little kids; I also recognized my own excitement at this Halloween-themed cookie. So many of the seasonal desserts I see involve massive decoration, and really seem to come together with the finesse of the final decoration or construction. Being a slightly less-than talented artist, I was pleased to find a holiday treat that I would be able to make without the fear of frosting muddled Frankensteins or vampires or witches.

And beyond the playful colors of the final product, these cookies are delicious as well. To give fair warning, though, they are quite sugary (hmm, how could that be?) and could easily put one into a cookie coma with just two or three helpings. But since we are approaching Halloween, it seems safe to assume that most of us will be in sugar shock soon enough anyway.

Halloween Chocolate Chip M&M Oreo Cookies

Yield: About 30 cookies

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup Halloween M&M candies

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

6-8 Oreos, broken into fourths (do not crush)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and both sugars. Beat in vanilla and egg. Add baking soda, salt, baking powder and cream of tartar and beat well. Add the flour and mix until well-blended. Stir in the M&M’s, chocolate chips and cookies. Using a heaping teaspoon, drop the cookies about 2 inches apart onto cookie sheets. Bake for 13-15 minutes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Cream of the New York Crop

We all have a certain bakery or café that we know makes the absolute best chocolate chip cookie or brownie or cheesecake; these are our “go to” places where we bring friends from out of town and where we head when we have a craving not just for something sweet, but for that very specific recipe that we’ve tried over and over again.

I have my short list of places, many of which have been mentioned in my posts, or are linked on this website, and all of which I’ve gushed about to no end. But in a city as large as this one, so many worthwhile places get lost. It seems that even now, after two years in Brooklyn, I still make new, seemingly miraculous discoveries, either by recommendation or passing by, or the infrequent profile in a magazine. While these finds are always exciting, I’m afraid that there’s much that I’m still missing.

What bakeries and cafes and food shops are on your list? Which ones have the best baked goods, or the best quality ingredients? What are the places that you would implore anyone and everyone to try, at least once?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Yes, Life is Sweet

One thing I adore about living in New York is that there is a seemingly endless selection of bakeries, pastry shops, candy stores, and gourmet marketplaces. There are the places that I've stopped in once or twice, either by whim or recommendation, and there are the locales that I find myself visiting by default when I'm looking for a good brownie, a British Cadbury bar, or a block of artisan chocolate made with sea salt and bacon. I've even reached the point recently when I felt that there was nothing I hadn't tried: no sugary treat left un-sampled. But then I was having a conversation with a co-worker about restaurants in the Lower East Side, and he mentioned a shop that he had been certain I had stumbled upon before. I had not, but how could he have been so sure that I must know the place? The store is called The Sweet Life, and its name and its goods are the reason why I should have found it months and months ago. Alas, I only went for the first time this weekend, but I can safely say that it already has made my life sweeter.
The Sweet Life is a candy and gourmet chocolate family owned retail shop and has apparently been a landmark on the on the Lower East Side for the past 25 years. I can see why this would be true; the first thing that struck me upon entering this tiny store was the strong aroma of chocolate and sugar that had permeated the air. Next, I looked from corner to corner and saw clear jars filled with chocolates and jelly beans, stacks of finely wrapped chocolate bars, tins of tea, containers overflowing with nuts and dried fruits, scales and metal scoopers, tiered displays of chocolate candies, bottles of sweeteners and spreads...well, I could go on and on. I have no problem admitting that this tiny shop gave me a brief vision of what my personal heaven could be.
The second wave of adoration for The Sweet Life came later, when I tried their milk chocolate covered raisins. Now, I've been patronizing candy shops since I was little, always delighting in filling the small plastic bags with bulk candy from the plastic bins, and generally choosing at least one small handful of chocolate covered raisins. Every other chocolate covered raisin I've ever eaten pales in comparison to the rich, creamy, and properly sweetened chocolate of these raisins. I found out that they have their own chocolate machines, and while I could not extract any kind of recipe from the gregarious young shop keeper, I knew at first taste that this was a product of true quality. And continuing with the idea of high-quality ingredients, I was also thrilled to pick up a small container of Valrhona cocoa power. A product of France, Valrhona chocolate is supposed to be amongst the very, very best in the world. When purchasing the cocoa, the shop keeper urged me to try some in hot chocolate, which I believe I'm now required to do. The rest will be going into a batch of brownies which ought to be the best I've ever baked, I'm sure. Just having spent several minutes in this store, I feel that my weekend on the whole has been a success. But now I slightly worry: how many other wondrous New York City candy and chocolate shops am I missing?

The Sweet Life

63 Hester Street

New York, NY 10002


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Super Easy Cinnamon Raisin Quickbread

As I was sitting in my apartment this evening, looking out at the gray September sky, I began to wonder what would be good to pair with a warm cup of tea. As any tea lover can confirm, there are countless options, ally varying based on the flavor of the tea, the time of day, even the weather. I mentally ran through the recipes that I could recall that produced perfect light cookies, delightful miniature sandwiches, and hearty pastries when I remembered a recipe that I hadn’t looked upon in months and months.
Despite its ease and its versatility, I always seem to forget about my Cinnamon Raisin Quick Bread. Basically, it’s a bread that the baker can make as healthful or unhealthful as he or she wishes, a bread that almost anything can be added to, a bread that works well in the morning as a fast breakfast and, of course, in the evening as a tea-time companion.
The best thing about this bread is that it is easy enough to whip up on a whim. And, if you’re anything like me, then you already have all the ingredients you need on hand. I like to let the bread cool quite a bit before eating, though, otherwise it’s too crumbly to fully enjoy.

Cinnamon Raisin Quick Bread

Ingredients:
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 ¼ cup skim milk
2 egg whites
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup raisins
1 tbsp. ground flax seed

Directions:
1. Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan.
3. Bake for about 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back to School with Peanut Butter Cookies

I may be slightly tardy on the whole “back to school” thing (it’s been a few years now since I’ve been “back to school”), but I don’t think it matters how long you have been out of the classroom. When September comes around, the blustery days arrive, and shiny red apples are numerously displayed on every grocery cart, and that feeling of a new start comes rushing back. There is some seriousness to it: as in, what a fun summer, now back to the “real” work. However, what I enjoy is the sensation of change, of starting anew. Of course that comes with the springtime, as well, and a bit more logically, but even still. To me, autumn is another turn in the cycle, and I like to welcome it now with the same traditions that I’ve carried from my grade school days.
Nothing engulfs me with a wave of nostalgia like food does. That’s why it’s around September when I like to pull out the apples, the peanut butter, the oats, the caramel, the macaroni & cheese … all of these foods remind me of the first days returning to school, and I’m pleased that these memories are not ones of terror. Perhaps the food aided as a comfort when returning to a routine after the laziness of summer, but if that’s the case, then it seems even more necessary to utilize their characteristics to help usher in the surprisingly chilly and overcast Fall that we’ve already begun to experience in New York.
So when I found a recipe that combined both peanut butter and oats (two lunchbox cookie staples), I decided to play around with some of the ingredients and came up with the super simple recipe below.

The cookies come out of the oven crisp and flavorful, tasting strongly of peanut butter. The oatmeal gives a unique texture to the cookies, and the wheat bran adds some healthfulness without detracting from the overall taste.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Yield: About 4 dozen

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup peanut butter

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup wheat bran

3/4 cup rolled oats

2 tsp.baking soda

Directions:

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

2. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar,vanilla, peanut butter and eggs. In a separate bowl, mix the flour,bran, oats, and baking soda. Slowly stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto an ungreasedcookie sheet.

3. Bake for 14 to 17 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cheesecake filled Thumbprints

I've written about The Cake Shop in the Lower East Side before, when I sampled their vegan cupcakes. I've been patronizing the place with increased frequency over the past few months, and incidentally, it is a little too adorable, I think, to be writing a blog post for your dessert blog in a place with this name (while, yes, eating a cupcake). Though now I suppose I'm one of those irritating 20-somethings who blogs in a coffee shop (although The Cake Shop is much more than that: it's a performance space, a record store, a bar, a vegan eatery...).

Anyway, to the point: I have quite a thing for thumbprint cookies. What I love most about them is how adaptable they are: there is a seemingly endless list variations and, thus, ways to get creative. I've made peanut butter and jelly thumbprints, brownie thumbprints, lemon thumbprints. There are date fillings and pecan topped and the standard jelly-filled butter cookie types. At my house growing up, we always had the jelly-filled type, which I've since come to regard as the “classic” thumbprint, and it wasn't until later in my baking career (and recipe research) did I see that versatility is this cookie's best quality.

This is why I was so excited to see, in Martha Stewart's Cookies, a new twist that had never occurred to me: Cheesecake Thumbprints. Now that I've seen it from Martha, it seems like such an obvious idea. The cheesecake flavor pairs well with so many other forms of desserts (like brownies and ice cream), so why not put it into a thumbprint? When I read through this recipe, it seemed pretty basic, but I made a couple of changes to the ingredients for the filling, only because I have a bit of a love for different sorts of cheeses, and pairing them together with other foods. Once, in New York, I had a spectacular cone of gelato: Marscapone flavored. Because this particular cheese works so well when used in desserts, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try it in place of the cream cheese. It certainly made for an amazing cheesecake filling with a mild taste. However, I found the filling to be slightly overshadowed by the buttery strength of the base cookies. When I make these in the future, I'll be sure to roll the cookies smaller and attempt to make larger wells.

Still, though, these are a very delicious and novel cookie, which I found satisfying enough after enjoying only one.

Cheesecake Thumbprints

Yield: About 3 dozen

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

1/8 plus ¼ teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1 ½ teapsoon sour cream

¼ teaspoon vanilla

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

1. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy for about three minutes. Beat in ¼ cup sugar and 1/8 tsp. salt until smooth. Mix in one egg yolk, sour cream and vanilla. Cover and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, ½ cup sugar and ¼ tsp. salt until creamy and combined. Mix in the last egg yolk until well-incorporated. Gradually add flour and mix until combined.

4. Scoop out level tablespoons worth of the dough and roll into balls. Place balls onto parchment-lined or greased baking sheets. Using the handle end of a thick wooden spoon, or your finger, make an indentation in the center of each ball.

5. Place into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully use your thumb (or the end of the same wooden spoon) to press the middle of the cookies, remaking the indentations. Place cookies back into the oven, rotating them from their original position, and continue to bake until slightly golden around the edges, about 7 minutes.

6. Remove cookies from the oven and fill the indentations with the cheesecake filling. Place back into the oven and bake for about 8 more minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and transfer cookies to a wire rack to cook completely. When cool, place cookies into the refrigerator to chill before serving.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chocolate Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

There's nothing like a hearty, autumn oatmeal cookie. As a previous post attests, I have a weakness for oatmeal cookies, but this recipe is quite different from the other. There is coconut, and even though the amount used is not much, it really has an impact on the overall taste. Additionally, dark chocolate is used as opposed to milk, which takes away a bit of the sweetness. And, there is no cinnamon, but none is needed for these cookies.
Although coconut often gives baked goods a summery, tropical feeling, in these oatmeal cookies, it only adds to its substance. I must give the newest issue of Cooking Light it's due for providing me with the recipe; I must admit, reading through this magazine every month gives me a great amount of pleasure. I'm not big on magazines in general, but the foodie ones have a special place in my heart, and have never failed to disappoint. I always find either a new recipe to add to my ever-expanding lexicon or an explanation of some technique that I have yet to try (what precisely is braising?).
But of course, I'm not attempting to sell a subscription to anyone. I suppose that while some people cannot pass up the newest issue of People or Glamour, one can walk into my apartment and find a plethora of cooking magazines, all dog-eared and marked up, simply waiting for me to open them and find my next delectable dessert.


Chocolate Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup quick-cooking oats
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup packed brown sugar
6 tbsp. granulated sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 large egg
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup flaked sweetened coconut
¼ cup finely chopped dark chocolate
Cooking spray

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir with a whisk.
3. Place sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add egg, beating well. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; stir just until combined. Stir in coconut and chocolate.
4. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 24 portions. Roll each portion into a ball. Place 12 balls on each of 2 baking sheets coated with cooking spray; flatten slightly with the heel of your hand. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, at 350° for 15 minutes or until the tops are set and cookies are lightly browned on the bottoms. Remove cookies from pan; cool on wire racks.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chocolate Cake unlike the 13x9" variety

Every week I volunteer at a wonderful used book store in SoHo, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. I spend my evening shelving books, talking with customers, and socializing with the other volunteers, who have become good friends. For a bibliophile like me, I find myself in a state of utter bliss, being surrounded by books: obscure titles from decades past, new releases, covers for which to judge. I believe that all of us volunteers who are there, not only because we want to support the Housing Works cause, but also because we find a certain comfort in books.

And of course, since another form of enlivenment for me is baking, I tend to scan the cooking section of the bookstore on a weekly basis, checking for any appealing titles. This week did not disappoint. I really should have no shame in saying that I've been waiting for Nigella Lawson's “How to be a Domestic Goddess” cookbook to appear in the store; even though I would not simply go to a bookstore and buy the book full price, I've been fetishizing it for some time. Part of this is due to the title: I do want to be a goddess of this variety, one who has an artillery of recipes for every occasion, all mouth-watering and luscious. Another part is due to the fact that I think Nigella is an extraordinary woman and baker (I suppose in order to support her, I should have just bought the book retail. Oh, well). Though she has not been trained as a chef, she brings her personal style of enjoyment to her cooking shows and her cookbooks: for her, food is a pleasure and it is meant to be savored, not endured. She cares about the method and the final product, all with a relaxed attitude that many uptight chefs would benefit from. Also, she initially worked in publishing, which is why I relate to her beyond the love of cupcakes and the therapeutic nature of cooking.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled to have her cookbook, and I was quite pleased with the dessert I made this weekend. It's a chocolate loaf cake, and it has the simplicity of a quick bread recipe. However, one would never mistake one for the other; this cake is dense and rich. I think that pairing it with vanilla ice cream would make it even better, but it still is an incredibly satisfying dessert on its own.

Chocolate Loaf Cake
Ingredients:

1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. boiling water

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, grease and line a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Be sure to line the pan with parchnent or wax paper.
2. Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs and the vanilla, beating well. Fold in the now-cooled chocolate, blending but not overmixing. Gently add the flour, which should have been mixed with the baking soda, and then slowly mix in the boiling water. The batter will be quite liquid.
3. Pour into the lined pan and bake for 30 minutes. Turn down the oven to 325 degrees F and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. The cake will not be entirely firm, so no need to worry if you insert a toothpick and it comes out unclean.
4. Cool the loaf pan on a rack and let it completely cool before turning it out.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cran Apple Cider Cupcakes

Yesterday at the office there was an overflow of baked goods: we had waffles, chocolate sauce, cookies. No one was complaining, exactly, but when there are so many options, how does one make the choice of what to sample? A small taste of everything? Mindless munching while walking through the cube space? One deliberate dessert to last the day?


Unfortunately, I made the decision even more difficult in the afternoon. During lunch, I picked up a dozen cupcakes from Tribeca Treats: my dozen cupcakes, actually. As the winner of the "create a speciatly flavor" contest, I was given a gift of my Cran Apple Cider cupcake with cinnamon icing and candied ginger; since so many of my co-workers supported me in the voting process, and since I really shouldn't have a dozen cupcakes just lying around my apartment, I brought them in for all to share.

The feedback was amazing. Now, I obviously did not make the cupcakes, so I really shouldn't even be taking credit. But, as was pointed out a few times, they were my brainchild. If I do someday open a bakery (I hear Seattle is a nice place for baked goods), then I'll want to start getting creative now.


The cupcakes are, in fact, incredible. The cake tastes, true to its name, like cider and the cranberries give it a welcome tartness. The frosting also pairs well with the cider, with only a hint of cinammon and a marvelous cream cheese consistency. It's the kind of cupcake I can see myself earnestly pairing with a glass of apple cider, perhaps sitting underneath a tree in the park, watching the yellow and red leaves drift to the ground and get carried off with the autumn breeze.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Seven Layers Never Tasted So Good

I'm amazed to find that the parallel between my baking and my moments of joy are so close. I know I am repeating myself, and for that I apologize, but when I am creating a dessert, I feel immensely happy: as if I am on the right path for me.

That was how I felt tonight, when my blue mood forced me to make a decision: watch episodes of The Simpsons online, or get in the kitchen and do something different. Well, after the first three Simpsons episodes, I decided that I should do something for others, hopefully with a delicious result.

Haven't we all tried the Seven Layer Magic Cookie bars at some point? The treat goes by so many different names now, all with different results. I thought I would take what I had in my cupboard and put together my own variation. I won't lie; I was emboldened by my cupcake flavor winning first prize, and I thought that, perhaps, I could throw something together all of my own.


These are not the Magic Cookie bars that you may have enjoyed at bake sales or from your mother's oven. These are an adaptation that I am excited to show my co-workers tomorrow.
Of course, anyone could have put these together. The whole point, I believe, is to try new things and mix in whatever gets your fancy.

I'm just happy that I was able to tonight (and with the butter, is truly is 7 layers!)

Christie's Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bar

Ingredients:
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup milk chocolate chips
½ cup peanut butter chips
½ cup oats
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Melt butter and coat in a 13 x 9 inch pan
3. Spread crumbs evenly over bottom of pan and pat to make a firm crust. Layer chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and oats over crumbs. Pour condensed milk over the mixture. Sprinkle coconut over condensed milk.
4. Bake for 24-27 minutes, until everything is set. Let cool.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

No Salt, Just Sweet

Sunny days are the worst when you have a gray cloud over your head.

Most other times, I would decide that a helping of my oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies would help, but I know that no amount of sugar is going to chase this rainstorm away, so why bother?

Aside from the gloom, I am pleased, actually, that I’ve reached a point in my baking where I realize that it’s not just the final product that should be savored, but it’s the entire process. I’m no longer baking just in order to reach a final destination, but it’s a fulfilling task that soothes my mind and relaxes my body; it’s absolutely lifting for my soul to stand in front of my counter, feel the warmth of the stove, and have a recipe card staring me in the face. Sure, the end result is important, and clearly it’s the only part that matters to my audience of tasters, but it’s no longer the sole reason I bake.

With this in mind, I decided on a cookie that I would work with a bit more than a drop cookie; something I could put in my hands, and that I could feel and form. And this recipe for fudge cookies truly yields chocolately-delicious results. The cookie, when slightly under-baked, is soft on the inside with slightly harder edges, and the powdered sugar enhances and adds to the unsweetened cocoa powder.

No matter what the recipe, really, a little bit of sweetness at least helps to brighten up a blue day.

Chocolate Cookie Pretzels

Ingredients:

2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350°F. 2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar and vanilla. Add eggs and beat well. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating until well blended. 3. Divide dough into 24 pieces. On lightly floured surface, roll each piece with hands into thin strips, about 12-inches long. Place strip on ungreased cookie sheet. Twist into pretzel shape and place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. 4. Bake 7-8 minutes. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Award-Winning Cupcake, now a Specialty Flavor at Tribeca Treats!

Like any respectable office building, mine has an amazing bakery within walking distance, Tribeca Treats. To top it off, the bakery is only a mere block away from a favorite lunch destination, The New York Hot Dog Company. Many a lunch with my co-workers has consisted of a hot dog and cupcake, or at the very least, a hot dog and a brief interlude inside the bakery, if only to look at its creative greeting cards and take in the scent of cream cheese frosting.

Recently, Tribeca Treats held a contest to determine their newest “Specialty Flavor” that would be featured in rotation at the bakery. Participants were asked to create a cupcake flavor detailing out the type of cake, the frosting, and any toppings. The winning cupcake would be added to their menu for all to enjoy. Naturally, I entered the competition.

I was excited when I learned that my flavor was a semifinalist, flabbergasted when I heard that it was a finalist, and overjoyed to hear that it won first prize!

The contest was an absolute joy to participate in from the tasting perspective as well; for four days, the bakery held taste-testings of each of the semifinalist, then finalist flavors, allowing for customers to rate each cupcake. There was some very solid competition, and I think we all enjoyed sampling an array of uniquely flavored miniature cupcakes, all exquisitely made by the bakery.

After the tasting, and especially after the results, I was – and am – quite proud of my invention. I submitted an Apple Cider cupcake with cinnamon frosting and a bit of candied ginger as a topping.

Growing up in Connecticut, where orchards and farmer’s markets are in no short supply, I’ve been savoring apple cider donuts every autumn since I was a child; I couldn’t think of a more seasonal and mouth-watering flavor for a cupcake, and I’m glad that now so many people are able to get a taste of it themselves.

If you live in the New York area, then I shamelessly implore you to visit Tribeca Treats and try the Apple Cider cupcake for yourself. That way, you can say that you know the creator of this incredible dessert.

I can guarantee, there will be more coverage of the Apple Cider cupcake to come.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

You Really Can Doodle a Snicker

There aren't too many cookies with names as adorable as "Snickerdoodle." This alone would be enough for me to try a cookie ("How cute! It must be as yummy as it sounds"), or a cake, or bakery. For example, I knew I would love the Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery before I stepped foot into the small space continually permeated with the smell of buttercream. I also figured that the grocery store Peas N' Pickles in Dumbo must be simply amazing. I was proven correct on both these counts, and so I trusted that if I made Snickerdoodles, they would likewise turn out delicious.Although I had eaten Snickerdoodles before, they never quite stood out in my mind as a cookie to be coveted; this is most likely due to their simplicity and lack of chocolate. However basic the cookie may be, though, the Snickerdoodle should not be cast off in favor for the more glamorous varieties. Snickerdoodles are made from a basic sugar cookie base, and what gives them their distinctive taste is the cinnamon that the unbaked dough is rolled in. This particular recipe yields crisp, dense cookies with a spicy flavor that nicely offsets the sweetness of the sugar. And since there is nothing particularly offensive about these delightful baked goods, it seems to me that they would be perfect for almost any occasion, from birthday parties to picnics to tasty gifts: a perfect multi-purpose cookie with a terrifically fun name to speak.

Snickerdoodles

Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup pure vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease baking sheets.
2. Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl combine butter, shortening, and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine.
3. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the ground cinnamon. Form the dough into small balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Almost as easy as pie

My experience with baking pies has only gone as far as a Cool Whip and Jello mixture spooned into a store-bought graham cracker crust. While there's nothing at all wrong with these delicious pies, I felt that I really should be stretching myself as a baker and move away from the 3-step baking recipes that I have gone to by default for years. As I browsed through pie recipes, I became overwhelmed by how complicated some of them could be, but in reality, I only gave the directions a passing glance before deciding that I would not be pitting cherries or buying fresh rhubarb. Once I decided for good, though, that a pie would be a gratifying challenge, I started to read through recipes in earnest, and I found this one for a lattice-topped blueberry pie from Cooking Light.
Actually, the preparation was not exceedingly difficult, but I also did not create an ideal pie. The blueberry filling was a breeze, and it turned out perfectly: sweet enough, but not too much to overwhelm the fruit flavor. The crust, on the other hand, is something that I apparently need to work at a bit more. It was slightly buttery and browned, but it crumbled where it should not have, making for a pie that could hardly support itself. And, if this were for a party or a gift, I would have taken more care when rolling out the dough on the plastic wrap, and also cutting the dough for the lattice top; mine was a bit messy.
In the end, the feedback was all positive. I made this for my family, and each of them agreed that it was absolutely scrumptious, if not heavy on the blueberries (which, in reality, is not a criticism). As summer berry recipes go, it was quite fun to try, and I'm proud that I was able to face the trepidation of making a pie without the safety net of a pre-made crust or a filling that comes from a can. This recipe is nothing to fear at all, and I daresay that I've gained the confidence to take another look at some of the pie recipes that I scoffed at earlier, thinking that it would simply be too much work. After all, the work of it is the enjoyable part!
As us bakers know, there's something so satisfying about creating an entire dessert from scratch: digging our hands in the dough, meticulously measuring out each ingredient, sampling the smallest spoonful along each step, and finally removing a finished product from the oven, fragrant and hot, then offering it up to others as if it were a finely executed work of art.



Lattice-Topped Blueberry Pie

Ingredients:
Crust: 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided 1/2 cup ice water 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 1/2 tablespoons butter Cooking spray

Filling: 1 cup sugar, divided 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 1/8 teaspoon salt 6 cups fresh blueberries 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, melted 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
1. To prepare crust, spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1/4 cup flour and ice water, stirring with a whisk until well-blended. Combine 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water mixture; mix with a fork until flour mixture is moist.
2. Gently press two-thirds of dough into a 4-inch circle on heavy-duty plastic wrap; cover with additional plastic wrap. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Press remaining dough into a 4-inch circle on heavy-duty plastic wrap; cover with additional plastic wrap. Roll dough into a 9-inch circle. Freeze both portions of dough 10 minutes. Working with larger portion of dough, remove 1 sheet of plastic wrap; fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Remove top sheet of plastic wrap.
3. To prepare the filling, combine 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl, and sprinkle over blueberries. Toss gently. Stir in butter and vanilla. Spoon blueberry mixture into crust.
4. Preheat oven to 375°.
5. Remove top sheet of plastic wrap from remaining dough. Cut dough into 6 (1 1/2-inch) strips. Gently remove dough strips from bottom sheet of plastic wrap; arrange in a lattice design over blueberry mixture. Seal dough strips to edge of crust. Place pie on a baking sheet covered with foil. Sprinkle lattice with 1 tablespoon sugar.
6. Bake at 375° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until crust is browned and filling is bubbly. Cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bites of chocolate peanut butter bliss

Although I truly relish the opportunity to flex my culinary muscles and try something new, there's something about the simple and familiar that has recently been more tempting to me…breaded chicken and a touch of seasoning, sautéed spinach with garlic, chocolate peanut butter chip cookies. Now, these cookies are not to be confused with an earlier recipe, peanut butter chocolate chip. The cookie recipe I made last night merely rearranges the flavors, but the end result is, in my opinion, far from the standard peanut butter cookie. This recipe, though basic enough was truly refreshing, producing a cookie that is amazingly soft and chewy (after baking for 10 minutes on a nonstick tray), and maintains a perfect balance between the two flavors. The chocolate and peanut butter come together even more fluidly when a small teaspoon of the dough is eaten…although I should not recommend this, due to the raw eggs. I found these cookies to be scrumptious both before and after baking. My taste-tester only got the baked version, but he concurred that they were a chewy, comforting cookie.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups peanut butter chips

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a second medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Blend in the eggs and vanilla and then blend in the flour mixture. Finally, fold in the peanut butter chips. Drop cookies by teaspoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets.
3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until set. Cool on wire racks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Berry Strata

To say that the heat of New York City was unbearable this past weekend hardly gives a full impression of just how hot the sun was, how heavy the air was, how the temperature reached unhealthy levels and forced many into the artificial air conditioning of whatever store or café was nearest. It was horribly, disgustingly hot, and the mere act of breathing was an unpleasant chore.

These are the summer days that are so easy to forget about when, in the midst of a cold February, one wistfully imagines July days spent lakeside drinking lemonade and dipping strawberries into freshly-made whipped cream. These fantasies do not transition into reality in New York City, or
if they do, I certainly have never seen them.

No matter the weather, though, summertime is a lovely time to sample all the fruits that the season has to offer (even if certain recipes use the frozen variety of said fruits). Which is why I decided to brave the oven and try this recipe for a mixed berry strata. I, of course, stayed far away from my kitchen while this was baking, but once the strata cooled and I took a bite, I decided that it was well worth it.

Stratas are generally considered a brunch dish, which are usually made with layers of ingredients placed over a base of bread and cheese and baked in an oven. These components are found in this dessert strata, as well. The final result is something less cohesive than a pie or a tart, as there is no crust, and once plated, looks similar to a crumble.

I brought it into my office, and one person told me that it reminded him of the French Clafouti, with a custard-like consistency (in order to achieve this, make sure that you use both whole milk and ricotta). Other co-workers were pleased with the berry tartness combining with the sweetness of honey and juice.

Berry Strata

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. honey
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
3 tbsp. sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup orange juice
4 slices of bread, torn into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 16 oz. bag frozen mixed berried, thawed and drained

Directions:
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Turn off the heat, add the honey, and stir to combine.
2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Then combine with the ricotta and sugar. Add the milk, orange juice, butter and honey mixture, and bread. Stir to combine. Gently fold in the berries.
3. Place the ingredients in a 10-inch round baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 12 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the strata until golden on top and baked through, about 40 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Spoon into dishes and serve.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rice Krispies Tiffins

When I was in Ireland a few weeks ago, I fell in love about a dozen times over the course of the trip — with the landscape, with books, with one or two of the Irish boys I met. Of course, I also fell in love with a dessert: specifically, the simple, delectable Tiffin slice: a baked bar of shortbread, caramel, and chocolate. I tasted several of these while I was there, and though they may be on par with a brownie or a blondie in America, to me, they were just exotic enough to declare them a grand “discovery.”

I hadn’t thought about the Tiffin slice in days (with my birthday this past weekend, I’ve recently been seduced by the more local treats of cupcakes and chocolates), but then I was wondering what my next dessert would be. With the Fourth of July approaching, I wanted to do something fun and light-hearted, but without decorating a cake as a flag or cutting out star-shaped sugar cookies. Although I have no barbeque plans, my mind jumped to typical picnic desserts, and with a display of marshmallows in the supermarket, I decided that it has been much too long since I’ve made Rice Krispies Treats. Right up there with apple pie and S’mores, these easy bar desserts are, in my opinion, another staple of American family cuisine. What kid didn’t sample these growing up, at picnics or birthday parties or school bake sales?

And even though their straightforwardness is a major aspect of their appeal, I felt the need to dress these up a little for the holiday weekend. Enter the Tiffin slice: caramel and chocolate rarely, if ever, detract from the quality of a baked good, and so it seemed clear that the Rice Krispies Treats would only benefit from these additions.

I almost wish I could bring these to a bbq, or maybe start my own impromptu bake sale in the park with a tray of these treats: they just look too good not to be on display.

Rice Krispies Tiffin Treats

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. margarine or butter
1 (10 oz.) package regular marshmallows - or -4cups mini marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies® cereal
1 (8 oz.) jar caramel ice cream topping
3 cups milk chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Melt margarine in large saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add Rice Krispies cereal. Stir until well coated. Using buttered spatula, press mixture evenly into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Place the tray in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to cool.
2. Once the Rice Krispies treats are cool, warm the caramel topping in a small saucepan over low heat until the consistency is smooth and spreadable. At the same time, place 1 cup chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and melt in the microwave for 1 minute, then stir to completely melt chips. Repeat for the next 2 cups. Or, melt chocolate over the stove in a double boiler.
3. Spread the warmed caramel topping over the cooled Rice Krispies so that the treats are covered with a thin layer. Then, spread the milk chocolate over the caramel for a slightly thicker layer.
4. Decorate with candies, nuts, or other toppings.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lemon Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies

It wasn't until this batch of cookies was riding with me on the subway to work did I realize that I hadn't taken any pictures to showcase the final product of my Sunday afternoon baking. I figured that asking around the cubicles for a camera in order to take a photo of the tupperware container might have seemed a little crazy, so I wasn't able to capture any photographic proof of these Lemon Chocolate Chip Cookies. By the end of the day, there was not even a single cookie remaining, which could have been taken home and then later, eaten happily by me.

That's the kind of reaction I like out of my cookies, though; and not to brag, but the foot traffic through my work area was pretty heavy the other day, as was the praise following the first bite of these cookies. Actually, I should just credit the recipe, which I found and adapted slightly from Mrs. Fields and her vast wisdom of cookie-dom. The most surprising thing, I was told by my co-workers, was the hint of spice in these otherwise straightforward cookies: the cumin mixes well with the tartness of the lemon and the sweetness of the chocolate, making for a unique and delicious taste. Soft-baked and small, it's possible to eat a whole cookie in one bite, allowing all of the flavors to work together.

I was quite happy to bring the joy of Mrs. Fields into the office, considering what pleasure it gave me to bake these cookies over the weekend. As is the case, I'm sure, for so many around the city and the country, a good part of my Sunday routine has been given over to cooking; I make a large batch of my meals for the week and divide it into day-by-day portions; I peel and chop vegetables and wash fruit so that I'll have something to snack on; and, inevitably, I bake some sort of dessert that I will later share amongst my co-workers or my friends (however the week turns out).

Maybe this seems overly domestic, maybe it sounds positively dull, but for me, nothing is more relaxing and rejuvenating, and nothing begins my week as solidly, than a kitchen full of fresh, fragrant food. And the memory of having a table top covered with cooling cookies, the scent of lemon rising with the heat, is most definitely helping me get through this week.

Lemon Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) salted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 F.
1. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, and cumin; set aside.
2. In a large bowl cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed.
3. Add eggs and lemon extract, and beat well. Blend in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Drop dough by teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 14 - 15 minutes. Do not allow tops to brown. Immediately move cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

WTF at our advertising

When I was a junior in college I took a Communications class with a professor named Robin Andersen.

There are certain teachers who one will have the pleasure of encountering over the course of a lifetime, whether it’s the third grade teacher with long brown hair and a taste for gold pins attached to her lapel, or the woman whose lecture you sincerely anticipated, despite the start time of 10:00 a.m. Dr. Andersen was this latter professor, who never could recall my name, even though I had taken a total of three of her classes over two years, who once asked a student in the front row for a pen because she couldn’t find hers in her bag.

Her classes on media studies truly gave my eager undergrad eyes a perspective upon the world that I hadn’t thought of before—and what student does not wish for this precise thing in a professor?

Before this one specific class called “History and the Culture of Advertising,” I had looked upon billboards and magazine ads with a fleeting shrug. But when I was able to take a more thorough examination of what we are subjected to each and every day, and its subconscious ramifications, I feel as though my perspective of our American culture and everything that comes along with it did shift.

When I was in Ireland, I saw the billboard posted here. Now, this may not look like anything major, but when I saw it, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit, that I did the clichéd “stop and gawk with a wide eyed-expression look.” Now, why?

Because I would never, ever have seen this billboard in America. I don’t know much about advertising in Europe, but I feel confident that I do know advertising in this country.

In the U.S., this woman would be a “plus-sized” model. But in Ireland, this woman, whom I would venture to say is perfectly normal-sized, is a spokesperson for a diet regiment.

And then there's the ad of the diet plan, in the U.S., posted below.

Now, I really don’t want to get overly political, or talk about any specific interest group (cough, young American women who develop eating disorders and who are constantly being shown images in magazines, t.v shows, and commercials of skinny 96 pound women with the cursory tagline of how desirable they are and with instructions on how to become just like them.)

I really don’t want to.

But when I saw this billboard, I immediately saw how a woman of her—what? Curviness? Size? Proportions?— would not have gotten her picture up there if she were living over here (New York? Forget about it).

Also, I just love this guy staring hungrily at the stick woman in her apartment...because, unless we're all on The Special K Diet, where is our allure, really?

I do know that the notion of my food blog and this particular post paired together are quite amusing. It's been in the back of my mind as I've written this whole post. But the more important thing on my mind is the question of why the f*ck the second ad is even shown here, even in existence, something that that is being broadcast to women as something to aspire to, and why the Irish ad is not shown here, the one that makes my head hurt so much less than the American one.

Sadly, I know the answer is not simple, and it's something that one girl in Brooklyn will not be able to answer or to change the circumstances of, though she might desperately want to.

Maybe I should have just written an email to jezebel.com, but I'm riding on the hope that this is an appropriate vehicle of outrage, as well.

If not, please do let me know.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Delicious Ireland

I have discovered that arriving at JFK airport is something similar to having physical torture inflicted upon you; I could easily get more graphic, concerning long customs lines and aggravating people who decide to drop their 14-pound Louis Vuitton carry on onto ones (admittedly stupidly) sandaled foot, but since this blog is about food and eating, I think that it would be best not to. Anyway, I came into the airport late last night, after a severely delayed flight, with the fatigue that I imagine many travelers have felt before me, and many more will encounter in the future. Despite the long, long journey from the airport to my home, when I unlocked my door, and finally felt as though I could take a deep breath of air, I was overcome with joy. Joy that I had just spent the week in Dublin, joy that I was again in my apartment, joy that my cat wrapped herself around my legs and purred at an unprecedented decibel. And, clearly, joy that my belly had very recently been full of wondrously delicious Irish food.

Along my trip, as I walked from my hostel to the various castles and libraries and churches, I glanced at innumerable sidewalk signs with various food specials scrawled in chalk, and I became very aware that Dublin is no longer a city that cannot boast a rich culinary experience. It had been my naïve understanding that this was the case, and I only wish that I had had the means to more thoroughly dispel the notion. Even still, the food I ate on my vacation was positively incredible. I’m not sure where to begin; whether I should start with the steak and kidney pie, or the biscuits, or the cheeses.

Before this week, I had never experienced fresh cheese like the Irish can offer. While I was there, I found the most wonderful shop whose door displayed a sign saying that “the revolution will not be pasteurized.” I am not as witty as that author, and I have not been able to come up with a slogan as perfectly applicable. Maybe I’m awaiting some massive stomachache, but I really don’t believe so; I also believe that unpasturized cheese—the sharp cheddar I ate, specifically—is unlike anything I’ve tried on my side of the ocean before. The flavor was blunt and unapologetic, and even as it shocked my taste buds, I ate it gratefully. And the creaminess was another aspect in itself; maybe that was how cheese was meant to be tasted, as raw and authentic as though it just came from the cow. Later, for dinner, I had a plate of fresh cheese on brown bread with salad and fries (chips, of course) which was just as tasty.

Although I tried to be a thrifty traveler, one splurge was the smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel I had for lunch at the end of my trip. The cream cheese was of the average variety, but the smoked salmon – well, I couldn’t have predicted something so flavorful. I hate to be redundant by stating how creamy this was, but that has been the most apt adjective I’ve been able to come up with. And unlike cheese, which one might expect to be creamy, I know that I was not anticipating the same for my smoked salmon. But it was, with such a velvety texture that I had to pause. This was simply not akin to the smoked salmon I’ve had in America.

Another treat that I experienced was of the sweet variety (of course, I could not leave the country without trying its pastries). A bakery near my hostel displayed for me, each morning as I walked by, a baking sheet of biscuit topped with chocolate. Now, this is a simple enough dessert, and perhaps the only reason that I bought a total of five of them throughout my stay was its transoceanic quality. If that’s the case, I’m totally fine with it. But its simplicity truly made it stand out to me, and I’m just happy to have eaten such a crumbly and chocolately dessert – much like the cheese I ate, there was nothing over the top about it, and I found myself enjoying it all the more for it. With raisins, it’s called a 'Tiffin' slice.

As I had mentioned before, Ireland is a country that is quickly growing in its culinary prowess. Though there are many, many things that I can now recommend to the Dublin traveler, I’m happy to state that the food ranks quite high on this list. I would even say that you really ought to try the steak and kidney pie, if only the one time – just because you’re in Ireland.