Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ultimate Brownies and What to do, What to do

Ultimate Brownies - made December 18, 2015 from Handle the Heat
You might have noticed that I haven’t blogged in awhile. I was going at a fast clip over the holidays and was even almost caught up on posting the recipes I’d tried out leading up to Christmas. I even had about 7 restaurant reviews to write up and post before the new year. But I…..didn’t.


Part of that was because I ran out of time and once the new year hit, so did one of our busiest times at work. As in, I was heads down working, day after day, even through the weekends, with deadline upon deadline crashing down. Until about a week ago when all the deadlines and deliverables had been met. Then it was time to go back to my “normal job” which had piled up during this time of darkness. (Insert drama queen here.) I’m finally pulling myself out of the abyss to emerge into some normalcy.
But the other part of why I’ve been so blog-quiet is I was struggling with whether to keep on with the blog at all. It’s something I’ve been doing for almost 6 ½ years and although the last year and a half has been somewhat of a struggle to keep up with it as well as actually bake, I’ve managed. This time was different because it wasn’t just about the time but a confluence of other events: cutting back on sugar, trying to eat healthier, trying to lose weight, running out of new types of things to bake so I kept falling back on similar gamuts of cookies, cakes and brownies. And it was starting to get not-fun. I had always promised myself that if it wasn’t fun anymore, I wasn’t going to keep doing it. Life is short and all.
A big part of that is I really was cutting back on sugar. In fact, for the month of January, I gave up added sugar entirely (fruit is still okay). It was part of the annual “hey, let’s tackle those last 10 15 pounds again” goal. So if I was giving up sugar, I would feel like a complete hypocrite if I kept posting dessert recipes where sugar abounds.  Might as well ‘fess up what it really means is “here, YOU eat it but I’m not going to.” And that’s not who I am. Hence, the blog silence.


The other main reason I haven’t posted is I was really, really, really reluctant to cut the cord on my blog. Yeah, I know I don’t have the same verve for it that I did 6 ½ years ago or in the time since but did that mean I was ready to give it up completely? Maybe. Sort of. Not really. Okay, I just don’t know. And until I decided, I didn’t know what to post. Frankly I still don’t know. On the one hand, I haven’t baked for the entire month of January. I haven’t eaten sugar in January. I also lost 5 pounds in January. On the other hand, I feel like a piece of me is missing and not just the 5 lbs I lost. I haven’t done what I love and that’s to bake. Honestly, at this point, I don’t even miss the sugar or eating baked goods. But I do miss baking. I know. I’m weird that way.
So I still don’t know what I’ll be doing about my blog. I may post once in a blue moon or I may go through fits of baking and blog every day. Who knows? Until I decide, here’s the last thing I meant to put up in 2015. A month late but still worth making….if you’re eating sugar. And chocolate. It’s perhaps fitting that if this is my last blog post (I just don’t know!), that I “go out” on a brownie note. Because I love thick, fudgy-moist, chocolaty brownies. And that’s what this is. Enjoy.
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (94 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In the top half of a double boiler set over hot, barely simmering water, melted chocolate chips, butter and unsweetened chocolate together, whisking until completely melted and smooth. Let cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. Add the flour and salt, folding gently until combined.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake until a tester comes out with moist crumbs still attached, 35 to 40. Do not overbake. Let cool to room temperature. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lemon Sheet Cake

Lemon Sheet Cake - made December 6, 2015 from Back for Seconds
I’m blogging out of order because I had made this earlier but didn’t want to put it up ahead of the other recipes since this one didn’t turn out as well as it should have. That was entirely my fault. I didn’t bake it long enough because the toothpick came out clean when I poked it in the center of the cake yet I knew it wasn’t done. The cake looked too heavy and didn’t have a spring to it when I touched it lightly on top. But I have such a habit of relying on the toothpick test because I didn’t time it when I put it in the oven so I didn’t know how long it had been baking for and I have an abhorrence of dry, overbaked cakes that I decided to err on the side of caution and pulled it out.
Since the recipe calls for glazing the cake while it’s still warm, I couldn’t even rectify my mistake once I’d discovered it with the taste test. Because you can’t re-bake a frosted cake. In my defense, those first few bites were amazing. I shared forkfuls with my nieces after the warm cake had been newly frosted and we all had big eyes and our forks ready for the next bite. We started at the corner and edges which were the most baked so my underbaking failure wasn’t immediately apparent.
But once the cake had cooled, it was apparent I should’ve left this in the oven awhile longer. The texture once you go towards the middle of the cake becomes more dense. It wasn’t raw but it didn’t have a cakey texture either, more like a fudge texture. Which would’ve been okay if I had been baking fudge brownies but not so good with a cake.

Which is a shame because flavor-wise, this was a very good cake. Very good. So good that I need to make it again and bake it properly this time because, seriously, did I mention it was really good?

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Icing
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces softened cream cheese
4 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt butter with water. Turn off heat and whisk in lemon juice, sugar, flour, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, salt, baking powder and cornstarch.
  3. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean and cake springs back when lightly pressed.
  4. While the cake is baking, make icing. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and cream cheese. Remove from heat and whisk in lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Pour over warm cake.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Almond Joy Magic Cookie Bars

Almond Joy Magic Cookie Bars - made December 19, 2015 from Eat Cake for Dinner
This is one of those recipes where you should click on the title of the blog post to go to the original blog I got the recipe from and you can see what they’re supposed to look like. If you go by my pictures, you may not be tempted to make these. Mine are a far cry from the original. It’s my own fault since I took certain liberties with the recipe.
First, I didn’t have chocolate graham crackers and I didn’t want to bother getting any since I already had a box and a half of regular graham cracker crumbs I wanted to use up. Second, I didn’t want to buy sliced almonds either because I wanted to use up the pecans in my freezer. The results of my baking willfulness is up for everyone to see.
Fortunately I care more about taste than appearance and these were rather tasty. Then again, I love all things coconut so that didn’t hurt. They did make a thicker bar than I expected, especially the bottom layer so next time I might try them in a 9 x 9-inch baking pan instead. One trick I did learn from the recipe because my magic cookie bars always end up way more brown than what the original blog showed is to tent a piece of foil loosely over the pan halfway through baking pan. That’ll prevent further browning while continuing the bake the cookie bars. I’ve always known the foil trick but I had never thought to apply it to magic cookie bars. I tried it and it worked but I was a little concerned that the bars then looked anemic and a bit raw when technically they weren’t. But because I thought they did, I baked them a little longer than I might normally have. The bottom layer wasn’t dry but it wasn’t as moist as I would’ve preferred.
Ah, a reminder of why I try not to test out new recipes for the holidays. Still, it was more of a glitch than an outright failure and it was good enough that I felt safe in including it in care packages I was mailing out. Even if they weren’t very pretty.
Cookie Crust
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chocolate graham cracker crumbd
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Topping
3/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1 3/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 12-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8" baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Crust: In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla and egg and mix until combined.
  3. Add flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt; ,mix until fully combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Press graham cracker dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the mini chocolate chips (reserving a small amount), coconut and sliced almonds. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over the top and sprinkle with reserved mini chocolate chips.
  5. Return to oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until set. Loosely tent the pan with foil halfway through baking time to prevent the coconut and almonds from browning and rotate the pan in the oven.
  6. Cool for 30 minutes at room temperature then place in refrigerator to cool completely. Cut into 16 squares when completely cool.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Double Chocolate Kahlua Cake

Double Chocolate Kahlua Cake - made December 19, 2015 from Key Ingredient
One of my favorite and easiest-to-make cakes is the Kahlua Cake whose recipe I got from my friend Patricia years ago. It’s one of the few, extremely rare, recipes where my baking soul is (grudgingly) okay that it’s made with a cake mix as its base. I know, it hurts me to even say the words “cake mix” but it’s the truth.
In peering through my pantry to clear out my baking ingredients, I found a lone box of chocolate cake mix. I must’ve bought it for some recipe long ago and never followed through so it has sat untouched on my shelf until it almost reached its expiration date. The Kahlua Cake I like uses yellow cake mix and chocolate pudding mix, both of which I did have since I had planned to make that version of Kahlua cake for Christmas. But this recipe seemed like a good excuse to use up the lone rider chocolate cake mix.
It was just as easy and made palatable by punching up the chocolate flavor with a couple tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa. The Kahlua didn’t hurt either. The cake baked beautifully and easily slid out of the Bundt pan without protest. Score. I made the full recipe of frosting but ended up using only half of it. Since I’m not a frosting person, I didn’t see the sense of glopping it on an inch thick. Instead, while the cake was still a bit warm, I spread a thin layer of frosting over it, let it melt like a drippy glaze and set then put a second thin coating over it. That seemed like plenty and my niece, always a willing taste tester, agreed that it was the perfect cake to frosting ratio.

The texture of this was soft and fluffy, similar to cake mix texture so I’m a little prejudiced against it but the taste was helped by the Kahlua and the cocoa. My niece liked this cake better than I did; this was good but I still prefer my friend Patricia’s version. The link I got it from on pinterest goes to a site where you have to sign up to be able to access the full recipe. I don't believe in that so I've written up my own version of how I made it.
Cake
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain devil's food cake mix
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup Kahlua
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs

Frosting (a half recipe is sufficient if you don't like a lot of frosting)
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons Kahlua
8 tablespoons butter, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, optional (I didn't use it)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a nonstick Bundt pan.
  2. Sift together the cake mix and cocoa powder in the large bowl of a standing electric mixer. Add the Kahlua, buttermilk, oil and eggs. Beat on medium speed until well combined and glossy.
  3. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs (40-50 minutes, depending on your oven).
  4. Let cool to lukewarm.
  5. For the frosting: combine cocoa powder and water; bring to a boil, whisking smooth. Add Kahlua.
  6. Beat butter until creamy and add cocoa mixture. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating until smooth. Add cinnamon if using. Beat until smooth and glossy. Frost thin layer over lukewarm cake and let cool until set. Apply another thin layer. Let set and serve.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies - made dough December 19, 2015 from Sally's Baking Addiction
You’ve heard me say repeatedly that I’m indifferent to peanut butter. And that’s really true. Even when I add chocolate chips to peanut butter baked goods, I still can take them or leave them. I have 2 big Costco-sized jars of peanut butter in my pantry which are still unopened and it’s unlikely I’ll be able to make enough peanut butter baked goods to use even one of them. So they’re both going to the donation bin at my local library to be distributed to a local food pantry. But that still left me with the already-opened jar of peanut butter, also Costco-sized, since I’m incapable of shopping elsewhere if it’s available at Costco.
The main, okay, the “only” reason I make peanut butter cookies is to have an excuse to use the pointy side of my meat mallet to make the crosshatches with instead of a fork. Seriously, that’s why I make peanut butter cookies. My meat mallet has yet to ever touch a piece of meat to tenderize it. But it knows its way around peanut butter cookie dough balls. I give full credit to my friend Annie the Baker for teaching me that trick.

Unfortunately, it’s harder to tell with these cookies since they spread enough that you couldn’t see the pointy indents. Bummer. I also didn’t want to press down too hard to make the indents since I didn’t want to flatten the cookie dough balls too much as I still had hopes for a thick cookie. Which I got but there was enough spread to almost bake out the indents. This cookie has only butter and no shortening so it won’t be as crisp or “dry” as other traditional peanut butter cookies and that’s fine with me. I despise the dry mouthfeel from those types of peanut butter cookies and prefer something more moist. I added both peanut butter chips and mini chocolate chips to these cookies to make them a little more interesting. Given my peanut butter indifference, can’t say I’d rave about these but that’s literally just me. I gave some to a coworker who loves peanut butter cookies and she did the raving for me so I guess they’re pretty good.
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups + 2 tablespoons (391 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar, for rolling (optional)
  1. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs and mix on high until combined, about 1 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and peanut butter; mix on high until combined. Set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, toss the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together. Add to the wet ingredients and mix on low until combined. Cover dough tightly and chill for at least 3 hours. Or portion into golf-size dough balls, and, using the pointy side of a meat mallet dipped in granulated sugar, press indents into dough balls, flattening into thick discs. Cover and freeze until firm.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space cookie dough discs and bake for 11 minutes or until very lightly browned on the sides. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Toffee Butter Icebox Cookies

Toffee Butter Icebox Cookies - made dough December 13, 2015 from Mom on Timeout
I’ve confessed before that I’m a hoarder of baking ingredients, right? I can declutter clothes, shoes and dust-catching knickknacks with the best of them but when it comes to baking ingredients, I buy extras like Armageddon is coming and all the survivors are going to gather at my house for a baking marathon before the world ends. Why else would I have 4 ½ packages of Heath toffee baking bits? Although, in my defense, the plain toffee baking bits, as opposed to the milk chocolate toffee baking bits, are harder to come by so a friend gave me two and when I was in a grocery store I don’t normally go to and found them there, I bought a few more. And we should ignore the fact that I haven’t used them since.
Until now. Normally I buy the harder-to-find ingredients because I have a recipe that uses them and I go seeking them out. Then after all that trouble, I try to pick them up so I don’t have to search for them again next time I need them for another recipe. Sadly, for the toffee bits, I haven’t had cause to use them for any particular recipe. Fortunately, there’s pinterest and you can go seeking for recipes that use the ingredient(s) you want to use. Which is how I found this recipe for Toffee Butter Cookies.
What I love about this recipe is the simplicity. The dough is easy to mix together and handles easily, meaning not too sticky or soft and also not hard or crumbly. It obligingly pats into a log which make it easy to roll up in wax paper and stick in the freezer. When you’re ready to bake them, let the dough logs thaw for about 10-15 minutes before slicing them. You don’t want to cut them when they’re frozen solid as that’s when they might crumble but you also don’t want the dough to soften to room temperature as it’s harder to cut cleanly and keep their shape.
This is not a soft and chewy cookie and, for once, I don’t recommend underbaking. You’ll know you’ve underbaked it when it doesn’t have the “snap” like a good shortbread and instead of chewy but not a good chewy. Bake until the edges are golden brown and the tops also have browned slightly. You don’t want to overbake it either or the toffee will burn. This also defies my normal cookie-eating recommendation of eating while warm or lukewarm. Instead, I recommend you let it cool completely before taking a bite. When baked and cooled properly, this is a nicely crisp butter cookie with the added sweetness and crunch from the toffee.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Heath toffee bits
  1. Cream butter and sugar together.
  2. Add in the egg and vanilla extract; mix until well combined.
  3. Stir in flour, mixing just until incorporated.
  4. Fold in Heath toffee bits.
  5. Divide dough in half and place on top of a sheet of plastic wrap. Form the dough into a log about 6" long and 1.5" in diameter. Wrap each log with the plastic wrap and refrigerate dough logs for 1-2 hours or until firm.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Remove plastic wrap from rolls and cut into 1/4" slices. Place slices about 2" apart on baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Oreo Cookies and Cream Cookies

Oreo Cookies and Cream Cookies - made dough December 19, 2015 from My Kitchen Escapades
The main impetus for trying out this recipe is I wanted to use up the cookies and cream instant pudding mix I had bought in a pack of 4 from the last time I made a similar recipe. They don’t sell this flavor in my local stores so I had to buy the 4-pack from amazon because that’s the only size they came in. I also wanted to use up my snack packs of mini Oreos that I had bought to try out another earlier recipe. You see the pattern here? I’m on this revolving cycle of buying ingredients to try out certain recipes then trying out more recipes to use up the rest of the ingredients I had bought for the previous recipes.
Which would be all well and good if the cycle was perpetual as my baking has in the past. But since I was trying to end date my baking spurts for awhile, I had to keep using them up without replenishing them. It’s harder than you think. Fortunately, making this cookie dough was easy. Unfortunately I got a little lazy with chopping up the mini Oreos which would entail washing another knife and chopping board. After making 5 cookie doughs in a row, I didn’t have it in me to take what I deemed unnecessary steps. That might’ve been a mistake because it did make for some serious chunkiness in the cookies since the mini Oreos were mostly whole. But that was okay as they did provide a nice crunch when you bit into the cookie without needing nuts for crunchiness.
If you’re a cookies and cream fan, these are good cookies. I added both semisweet and white chocolate chips as well as the mini Oreos so these cookies have a lot going on. But the flavors all complement each other and make the cookie a little more fun. I was packaging them up in for foodie gifts to give out at work and wanted something a little different. Keep an eye on these when you’re baking them. The edges appear to brown fairly quickly but the middles still looked raw and shiny. You know I despise an overbaked cookie so I erred on the side of taking them out sooner rather than later. If I hadn’t, I think these would have a more cakey texture. And I simply don’t do cakey when it comes to cookies.
1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
4.2-ounce package instant Oreo pudding mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup mini Oreos, roughly chopped

  1. Cream together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the dry pudding mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
  2. Add the salt, flour and baking soda; mix until combined. Add the chocolate chips and Oreo pieces until combined. Portion into golf-ball-sized dough balls, cover and chill or freeze until firm, several hours or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space frozen dough balls on baking sheets and bake cookies 9-10 minutes until just set. Do not overbake. Remove to wire cooling rack to cool completely.