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

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

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

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


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)


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 cafĂ© 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

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

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.