Monday, July 21, 2014

Averie's Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough July 12, 2014 from Averie Cooks
Although I can never resist trying out new recipes for chocolate chip cookies, you know I have standards of almost Herculean-heights in order for me to consider a new recipe good enough to join the ranks of the ones I already hold in high esteem, namely Alton Brown's and Crazy for Crust's recipes for chocolate chip cookies. They don't spread much, stay thick, have the perfect consistency in terms of chewiness and, perhaps, the real standard, tastes good even at room temperature.

That might sound funny but I have many chocolate chip cookies that are fantastic when you taste the cookie 10 minutes out of the oven yet I'm less enthused about them an hour or two later or, "heaven forbid" says my snobby taste buds, a whole day later. Cookies stale quickly and I lose all interest in consumption if they're more than a few hours old. When you've been spoiled eating warm chocolate chip cookies when the mood strikes, you tend to have high standards for said cookies.

So it should come as no surprise that the recipe that joins my Top 3 list for This One's a Keeper chocolate chip cookies comes from Averie Cooks. I expected it to be good because it's from her blog but I admit to a little surprise by how much I liked it. It has vanilla pudding mix which I've baked in chocolate chip cookies before so I expected it would add to a soft texture. Surprisingly, while it did that, this cookie also still had the requisite crisp edges I like in a freshly baked cookie. Good taste, great texture, excellent 10 minutes out of the oven, good even completely cooled. The dough was also a dream to work with, not too soft or sticky (make sure your butter isn't too soft or warm) and held its shape well even when scooped into large dough balls. I've made other chocolate chip cookies from Averie's blog that were also good but this particular one easily joins my Top 3 list.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
one 3.5-ounce packet instant vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
one-12 ounce bag (2 cups) milk chocolate chips or chunks (I chopped up a bar of Trader Joe's milk chocolate into good-sized chunks)
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 4 minutes.
  2. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flour, pudding mix, baking soda, optional salt, and beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the chocolate chips; beat on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Using a large cookie scoop or 1/4-cup measure, form approximately 14 equal-sized mounds of dough, roll into balls, and flatten slightly. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to 5 days.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart and bake for about 11 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just set, even if slightly undercooked, pale, and glossy in the center; don't overbake. Cookies firm up as they cool. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Chocolate Fudge Brownies - made July 7, 2014 from Recipe Girl
Did I mention one of my nieces is in New York City for part of the summer? She's having the time of her life and I enviously track her tumblr blog with all the fantastic experiences she's having, including, but not limited to, all the glorious food NYC offers. My last trip to the Big Apple was solely to go there to eat so you can imagine the nice shade of pea-green envy I turn when I see her food pictures. Yes, she takes pictures of her food too - she's my niece, after all. Those genes run true.
But, despite her ice cream forays at Big Gay Ice Cream, food from Koreatown, and my relentless urging for her to have a burger at the Shake Shack, I still sent her a small care package of brownies. My sister had gone to visit her and thought my niece might be a lil homesick (awwww) and would welcome a care package. Say no more, I was on it.
I hadn't made a nutella crunch version of brownies in awhile so thought I'd trip down memory lane by trying a new brownie recipe from Recipe Girl because I needed something for the nutella crunch mixture to sit on. Plus these mail well.
The original recipe calls for the brownies to be glazed so I've left that down below if you want that version. If you want the version pictured, omit the glaze and use the nutella crunch topping recipe found here. For an 8-inch pan, I only used half the topping recipe. Be generous with the Rice Krispies if you like a lot of crunch (I do). This remains my favorite topping for brownies and a nice way to dress them up.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 to 5 teaspoons hot water (or more, as needed)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch baking pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick spray.
  2. Prepare the brownies:In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a pan set on top of a pot of simmering water. Remove from heat. Whisk the sugars into the mixture. Then whisk in the eggs, yolk and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until well incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center of the brownie comes out with moist crumbs. Remove from the oven and cool completely before adding the glaze (or the nutella crunch topping).
  4. Prepare the glaze: In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Whisk in 4 teaspoons of hot water, then add more water- 1 teaspoon at a time- until you reach a desired glaze consistency. You want to be able to pour it on the brownies.
  5. Use the parchment paper to move the brownies from the pan to a cutting board. Pour the glaze on top of the brownies, and use the bottom of a spoon to gently spread it to the edges. Let the glaze set before cutting.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Buttery Beer Bread

Buttery Beer Bread - made July 4, 2014 from The Novice Chef
This uses up #4 of the 6-pack of beer I originally bought for the Slow Cooker French Dip. I don't know why I feel compelled to keep trying out recipes that use beer instead of giving the remaining beer bottles away. Maybe it's because out of my friends who drink beer, most, if not all, of them are probably snobby enough about their beer that Heineken isn't going to cut it. They go to micro breweries and talk knowledgeably about - well, I don't know enough about beer to tell you and apparently, I wasn't listening to them when they talked about it. So giving them my leftover Heineken would be like them offering me a cupcake bought at Safeway. Uh, wow, thanks, that's so nice of you. (Really, do I have to eat it?)
Besides, since I already have the beer anyway, it's a rare chance to try recipes that use beer that I had always passed up before. Because I have no intention of buying beer again simply because I find it too confusing and don't know what to get. No need for me to re-live those tortuous moments at Target scratching my head looking at an end cap of beer and being baffled.
I tried this beer bread and it was really easy to make. Pour half the melted butter at the bottom of the loaf pan, dump the beer bread dough into it, pour the rest of the butter over it and bake. Before you can ask what could go wrong, let me tell you. First, the butter didn't incorporate into the dough as fast as I expected. Some of it decided to overflow the loaf pan instead, drip onto the bottom of my newly-cleaned oven and burn to the smokiness which greeted me when I opened the oven door to check on the bread. Awesome.
Second, and worse, it tasted like beer. I know, I know, there's a reason why it's called Beer Bread but I had been counting on the alcohol burning off in the baking and not tasting like beer. That's what happened the 3 other times I had baked or cooked with beer. Not so with Buttery Beer Bread. It lives up to its name, not just the beer part but also the butter part. It really was buttery. I shouldn't be colored surprise since it had a freaking stick of butter in it but it was a tad too buttery for me.  And trust me, I don't say that very often. The shame of it is, if I had liked beer, this would actually be excellent bread. No joke. The texture was crunchy on the outside and soft and well, bready, on the inside. Perfect chewiness. Seriously perfect. Considering it's no-knead dough and how much I love bread, perhaps it's just as well I don't like beer or I might've eaten the whole loaf. As it was, the beer saved me from myself.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 bottle (12 ounces) beer
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Line with parchment paper for easy removal (optional).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir the beer into the dry ingredients until just mixed.
  3. Pour half the melted butter into the bottom of the loaf pan. Then spoon the batter into the pan, and pour the rest of the butter on top of the batter.
  4. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve immediately with a smear of more butter, or reheat in the microwave for 20 seconds.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Bread

Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Bread - made July 4, 2014 from Averie Cooks
I keep finding all these great looking recipes on pinterest and half the time they lead me back to Averie's blog. Her picture of this sweet potato bread sucked me into this recipe and, because I had several sweet potatoes starting to take root (literally) in my kitchen because I wasn't using them fast enough, this seemed like a good recipe to try so I could use up the sweet potatoes before they started to turn my kitchen into a garden.
Mine didn't come out quite as yummy looking as hers but I still thought this turned out well. The texture was soft and moist like a good quick bread and this was an easy recipe to make. My only issue is there were so many spices that I think I had a hard time tasting the sweet potato.
I've had that issue before with sweet potato baked goods so I don't think it's the recipe but just the nature of the sweet potato; its flavor is easy to overpower. This reminded me more of carrot bread. I don't generally taste a strong carrot flavor in carrot cake for instance but I like it just the same. As with all moist cakes and quick breads, don't slice these until you're ready to serve and eat it or the ends will easily dry out unless they're well wrapped.
about 1 1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (2 medium or 1 very large), cooled
2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup buttermilk (or yogurt, Greek yogurt, or sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch salt, optional and to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degreesF. Spray one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with floured cooking spray or grease and flour the pan; set aside.
  2. To the sweet potatoes, add the eggs, oil, buttermilk, vanilla and whisk until combined; set aside. 
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients - flour, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, optional salt, and whisk to combine. Pour the wet sweet potato mixture over the dry ingredients, and stir to incorporate. Stir and fold with a gentle hand as to not over-mix and over-develop the gluten, which results in tougher bread.
  4. Turn batter out into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes for a 9x5 pan, or until top is domed, golden, loaf is springy to the touch, and cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Tent pan with foil in the last 15 minutes of cooking if top is browning a bit fast before interior has cooked through. 
  5. Allow bread to cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lemony Lemonies

Lemony Lemonies - made June 28, 2014 from Bakerella
I did a bunch of baking before I started my new job and I'm still catching up from those posts. This is one of them. I had a family barbecue to go to and (as always), lemons to use up so I went with this version of a lemon brownie. At least that's what they would seem like.
I actually would consider these more of a lemon cake, perhaps a bit more dense than a cake but "dense" is a strong word because they weren't really dense. They don't have much leavening in them either though so cakey also seems like a strong description. Let's just say they were somewhere in the middle.

But whatever you want to call them, I'd call them good. The texture was nicely chewy (yet cakey - and round and round I go on the descriptors) and the lemon flavor was perfect for a summer occasion. Lemons are most abundant in the winter but my lemon tree didn't get that memo and still keeps growing lemons so I keep doing lemon desserts in the summer. What made this cake/brownie particularly good was the lemon glaze. It was both sweet yet also had some tartness from the fresh lemon zest and lemon juice. Don't make the glaze too runny or it won't be thick enough and you want enough powdered sugar to let the icing set when it cools completely. Easy to make, slice and serve - enjoy.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3/4 cup unsalted butter, almost completely melted then cooled
2 eggs
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square pan or line pan with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray to easily lift brownies out of pan.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and zest together using a wire whisk.
  3. Add melted butter, lemon juice, eggs and vanilla and stir until completely combined.
  4. Pour into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until done.
  5. Remove from oven and cool.
  6. For lemon icing, sift powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Add lemon juice and zest and stir until completely combined and smooth. Pour over lemonies and let rest until icing sets. 
  7. Cut into 16 or 25 small bars only right before serving.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bakery Review: Three Babes Bakeshop

Three Babes Bakeshop - bought pie on July 3, 2014
At my new job, I discovered an unexpected perk - something called "Pop Up Shop". Pop Up Shop was essentially when local businesses of all kinds set up a temporary shop at a designated, advertised day(s) and time(s) on campus and peddled their wares.
I haven't been there long enough to know all the different types of businesses who show up in the Pop Up Shop. Sp far we've had business offering rentals to apartments nearby, a local CSA (community supported agriculture), and Benefits Cosmetics from San Francisco. During my first week, it was Three Babes Bakeshop. A bakeshop, you say? I think I started just in time.
Buttermilk Pie
They set up on the day before the 4th of July so right before our company holiday and before all those Independence Day barbecues might need some pies. Brilliant timing. According to the announcements posted in our campus Facebook page, you could also preorder a pie and the different flavors were listed of what they would be bringing.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
I had never heard of Three Babes Bakeshop but had to go check out their Pop Up Shop during lunch. I'm not big on pies unless it's apple pie (preferably a la mode) and that wasn't one of the flavors offered. It's not fall yet and they pride themselves on organic, seasonal produce so it's not surprising apple pie wasn't on the menu yet. Still, how often does a bakery come to me instead of me driving to them? I couldn't pass it up.
Peach Pie
They were set up in a little room near the middle of campus with their sandwich board outside to proclaim their presence and the flavors being offered. A woman (one of the Three Babes? No, I found out later) sat at a table with the pies on display. Since I'd never heard of them before, I felt justifiably nosy curious enough to pepper her with questions. Where did they sell? Did they have a commercial store front? How long had they been in business?
Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie
According to her patient answers, they'd been in business for 3 years, worked out of a commercial kitchen, didn't have a storefront but had a stall at the Ferry Building in San Francisco at certain times. And, in checking out their website, I also discovered that technically, there weren't THREE babes but only two. Still, it seems like they're looking for a third babe so there'll be truth in advertising in the future.
I bought the Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie which also touted itself as gluten free. That wasn't a consideration for me since I can embrace, madly hug tolerate gluten just fine. But out of all the pie flavors, that was the one most compatible with my taste buds. If I couldn't have apple, chocolate would do, even though I'm not big on pecans in a pie. It had a graham cracker crust, a creamy chocolate filling and a layer of pecans just underneath the baked chocolate crust. It was pretty good but also pretty rich so eating slowly and taking small bites were key. My niece and I split the first piece and I had to give away and freeze the rest. The pie was $35 which I think is rather steep for a pie. I'm not enough of a pie aficionado to be enthused about spending $35 on a pie, even on a delicious pie, so I chalked it up to both "research" on a bakery and another way to support a local, small business. If Three Babes ever comes back on campus in the fall, I'll be on the lookout for their apple pie and yeah, I'll fork over another $35 to try it. That's just how I roll.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Cookies

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Cookies - made June 28, 2014 from Averie Cooks
I get a lot of my baking recipes from trolling pinterest and many of the pins I add to my baking pinboards turn out to be from Averie Cooks. Matter of fact, I have so many pins from Averie's blog that I don't know why I don't just go directly to her blog and cut out the pinterest middleman. Probably because that would be too easy. Oftentimes a luscious picture would catch my eye on pinterest and even as my trigger finger clicks on the pin to go to the source recipe, I just know it's from Averie Cooks. Some bloggers have a distinct look and feel to their creations. I've come to associate Averie's look and feel to thick, chubby cookies, moist cakes and just mouthwatering. 

Thick and chubby bursting with white chocolate chunks sucked me into this recipe for White Chocolate Cream Cheese Cookies. I was going to a family barbecue at my cousin's and there were 3 active boys in the family mix so I knew some sort of chocolate chip cookies needed to be in the mix. Plus, really, you can't go wrong with a cookie recipe from Averie's blog.
This one didn't disappoint either. As with all her cookie recipes, make the dough ahead of time, portion it into golf-ball-size dough balls and freeze first. And underbake them. That's how you get them to be thick with the perfect moist, chewy, dense texture. I didn't have white chocolate chips so I chopped up Guittard white chocolate baking wafers. Don't worry if you don't like cream cheese (I don't) because the cream cheese just adds to the texture, not the flavor. I loved these cookies; they're hearty and sturdy but also tender and chewy. If you like white chocolate chip cookies, these are a winner.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) cream cheese, softened 
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
one 3.5-ounce packet instant vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
10 ounces white chocolate chips
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, cream cheese, sugars, egg, vanilla, and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 4 minutes
  2. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flour, dry pudding mix, baking soda, optional salt, and beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Hold back a handful of the white chocolate and add the rest.  Beat on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Using a large cookie scoop, 1/4-cup measure, form approximately 13 to 14 equal-sized mounds of dough, roll into balls, and flatten slightly. Strategically place a few reserved white chocolate chips right on top of each mound of dough.
  5. Place mounds on a large plate or tray, cover with plasticwrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, up to 5 days or place in the freezer in a freezer bag.
  6. Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a Silpat liner or parchment paper. Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart and bake for about 11-13 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just set, even if slightly undercooked, pale, and glossy in the center; don't overbake. Cookies firm up as they cool. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving.