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

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

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


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


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.



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


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

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

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.