Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TWD: Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Sandwiches and Bonbons

Let it be known: this was the week all of my husband's dreams came true.

You see, he is a simple man, with simple dessert needs. While I love deep, dark chocolate cakes drizzled with five kinds of sauces and topped with sorbets that involve obscure ingredient combinations, he likes vanilla ice cream. By itself. With a spoon. And that's it. No matter how much I protest that it's boring, he cites the Barenaked Ladies and claims that "vanilla is the finest of the flavors." Case closed.

So in his honor, I decided to make the vanilla bean ice cream exactly as written, valiantly avoiding any of the tempting variations listed in the recipe. Just milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and a plump juicy vanilla bean. But...there's nothing wrong with making a few...accessories...for the ice cream, is there?
Recently the LA Times food section ran an article about ice cream sandwiches, and they had some really delicious cookie recipes I just had to try. So I kept my ice cream plain, but made some chocolate-sea salt cookies and some coconut cookies to sandwich the ice cream in between.

Both cookie recipes were delicious! They had the perfect blend of chewiness and texture--the ice cream didn't squirt out the sides when you tried to gnaw through the cookie, but they didn't melt into mush when you bit into them, either. The coconut ones could use a little tweaking, perhaps. I added some coconut extract and still thought the flavor was pretty mild--next time I'd toast the coconut that goes into the cookie, to boost the flavor. Still, coconut and vanilla is a winning combination in my book.

The chocolate-sea salt cookies were divine. The chocolate cookies were barely sweetened (much like the flavor of those rectangular ice cream sandwich cookies, or Oreos) so the sweet vanilla ice cream really shone. And the salt added an interesting flavor without being too assertive.
And then...BONBON TIME! I'd never made ice cream bonbons before, and now I'm wondering why I've been wasting so many years of my life without them. So easy, and so delicious! I baked mini cookies out of the sandwich cookie dough, and while they were hot from the oven, cut them with a small round cutter to get them perfectly uniform. Then a small scoop of ice cream, a quick chill, and a dunk in chocolate. Perfection in just a few bites!

The bonbons on the coconut cookies got a toasted coconut topping, and the chocolate ones got chopped cacao nibs. They were a perfect balance of crunchy cookie, creamy ice cream, and rich chocolate. And because they're so small, they don't have any calories, so they're practically a guilt-free snack. (Right? Right??)

Oh yes, and the ice cream itself--amazing! Soooo creamy without seeming too heavy or rich. This may be my new favorite ice cream base recipe. And I can tell you from personal experience that it also goes well with warm chocolate chip cookies, and as an after-breakfast snack. Ahem.

Lynne at Lynnylu chose this week's recipe, and you can find the recipe and some delicious pictures over at her blog. The sandwich cookie recipes and bonbon instructions are after the cut...

Coconut Cookies for Ice Cream Sandwiches
from the Los Angeles Times food section
Note: Sandwiches are best assembled one day ahead to allow the cookies to soften slightly.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, plus 2/3 cup for rolling, divided
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups loosely packed sweetened shredded coconut
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1. In the bowl of a stand mixture using the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter, one-half cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, eggs and vanilla at medium speed until well incorporated, about 2 minutes (it will not be fluffy).

2. Meanwhile, grind the coconut in a food processor until finely chopped, about 10 seconds (you should have a scant 1 2/3 cups).

3. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Mix the combined dry ingredients, one-half at a time, into the butter mixture until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the coconut, mixing well.

4. Divide the dough in half, wrap each half in plastic wrap, and flatten into a disc (the dough will be very sticky). Chill for 2 hours or longer to firm the dough.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the remaining two-thirds cup of sugar in a small bowl. Using one round of dough at a time (keep the rest chilled), shape the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in the sugar. Place the dough 2 inches apart on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Lightly grease the bottom of a pint glass, or similar glass, with a little butter, then dip the glass into the sugar to coat. Press the cookie with the bottom of the glass until it is about one-eighth inch thick and 2 1/2 inches wide. Repeat with all the balls, and make sure the glass is well-sugared each time before pressing, as the dough will be sticky. Repeat with the second half of the refrigerated dough, forming and pressing the balls.

6. Bake the cookies, one pan at a time and in the center of the oven, until they are lightly golden on the edges but still white in the middle, about 10 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through for even baking. Remove the cookies immediately to a wire rack to prevent them from sticking to the baking sheet. Cool completely.

Each ice cream sandwich: 271 calories; 3 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 16 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 67 mg. cholesterol; 112 mg. sodium.

Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies for Ice Cream Sandwiches
from the Los Angeles Times food section
Note: The sea salt can be omitted, but it balances the sweetness of the ice cream. Gray sea salt, sometimes referred to as Celtic sea salt or sel gris, is recommended. It's available at most cooking stores and select well-stocked markets. Sandwiches are best assembled one day ahead to allow the cookies to soften slightly.

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling, divided
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons standard cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt for sprinkling

1. In the bowl of a stand mixture using the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter, one-half cup sugar and the brown sugar at medium speed until light, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and mix well to incorporate. Add the vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the salt, flour, cocoa powder and baking soda. Mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, one-half at a time, until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Form the dough into a disc, wrap with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or longer.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the remaining one-third cup of sugar in a small bowl.

4. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. If the dough starts to become sticky, return it to the refrigerator to chill briefly. Roll the cookies in the sugar. Lightly press down on the balls to flatten them to one-half inch. Place 5 to 6 small grains of sea salt on half the cookies (these will be the tops of the sandwiches), spacing the salt crystals out on top of the balls as much as possible.

5. Place the balls 2 inches apart on lightly buttered baking sheets. Bake until the surface puffs and begins to deflate, and the cookies darken slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through for even baking. Cool the cookies for 1 minute on the baking sheet, then transfer the cookies from the sheet to a wire rack to cool.

Each ice cream sandwich: 278 calories; 3 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 16 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 68 mg. cholesterol; 133 mg. sodium.

Bonbon Assembly

25 small cookies (like vanilla wafers)
1 pint ice cream
1 pound good-quality semi-sweet chocolate (or chocolate-flavored candy coating)
Toppings like toasted coconut, crushed nuts, or cacao nibs

Use a small cookie or candy scoop to scoop small balls of slightly softened ice cream onto the cookies. Freeze until very firm, at least 2 hours.

Melt the chocolate or candy coating and allow it to cool slightly, so that it is still fluid but is barely warm to the touch.

Working in batches, remove a few bonbons from the freezer and dip them quickly in the chocolate, trying to minimize the time they are in the chocolate so that they do not melt. Place the dipped bonbons on a foil-lined baking sheet and immediately sprinkle the toppings on top before the chocolate sets. Repeat with remaining bonbons and chocolate. Freeze until the chocolate is set. If for some reason these are not gone within 10 minutes of assembly, store them in an airtight container in the freezer.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Knockoff Cookies

I had mixed feelings when I read about this month's Daring Bakers challenge. We were given two recipes that were "copycats" of popular store-bought cookies: chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies, and Pepperidge Farm Milanos. On the one hand, it didn't seem too daring. On the other, summers get busy, and whipping out a few batches of cookies seemed manageable in the midst of all the other craziness.

Turns out there were a few flaws in my reasoning. Firstly, I didn't take into account my ridiculous OCD that requires me to make every task at least 64% more difficult than it needs to be. Making marshmallow cookies? Best not to make just one flavor--why not five different batches? That seems like a great way to make this task go faster. I made two different flavors of the cookie base (chocolate and vanilla) and ended up with lemon, mint, toasted coconut, hazelnut, and cinnamon-almond marshmallows.
The mint mallows went on a chocolate base. These were my favorite flavor combination, but they were the ugliest cookies--I'd done the mint marshmallow first, and didn't beat the marshmallow stiff enough, so it ended up drooping and sagging. Still tasted fab, but I wanted them to have the cute "kiss" shape that the rest of the cookies had.

The chocolate-hazelnuts were another favorite. Set on a chocolate cookie base, I smeared some Nutella on the cookies before piping the hazelnut marshmallow onto them.
The cinnamon-almond marshmallow cookies were a big surprise! I wasn't sure what to expect, but the flavor was really nice. I used almond extract and ground cinnamon in the marshmallows, and they blended nicely and weren't too strong. The tips of the cookies were dipped in melted cinnamon chips, which gave them a nice little flavor boost.
The lemon version was the only one I dipped in white chocolate, because I thought it could use a little more sweetness. I made the marshmallows substituting lemon juice for some of the water--no problem there. But then I got a little carried away adding just a pinch of citric acid--whoops--and they had a definite citrus "zing." Or more like a ZING. But when taken with the sweet cookie base and the white chocolate, they turned out nicely sweet and tart.
I am a sucker for toasted coconut, so these cookies were another favorite. I used coconut extract in the marshmallow, and tried them on both regular and chocolate cookies (I think I preferred the regular, in the end.)Would I make them again? Maybe (but just one flavor!) It's a lot of work for "just a cookie," but it's also a nice combination of soft and chewy and crunchy, and they look really cute, so I can see doing them for a special occasion--holiday sweets platter, gift basket, etc.

And now, on to my arch-nemesis, the Milano knockoffs. I was actually really excited about making these, because I luuuuurve me some Milano cookies. Especially the mint ones. And orange. And raspberry. Okay, I love them all. But I didn't realize that 1) the recipe is a big fat liar and yields about a MILLION cookies, 2) it takes ages to pipe and bake said million cookies, and 3) said cookies have a shelf-life of approximately 10 minutes, before they go from being deliciously crisp to disgustingly soggy.

So I literally spent several hours painstakingly piping little cookie fingers (and not-so-little fingers--1 inch long?? I imagine it would take days to get through all the batter that way. Mine grew to about 2.5 inches) and baking them off, then waiting for them to cool, spreading them with chocolate-orange ganache (nom nom nom) and then dipping some of them halfway in chocolate. Which was okay, because I ate a lot of the ugly ones during the baking process, so I was in a sugar coma that took the edge off of my angry impatience.
But then, when I went to taste some (and give them away) the next day, they were soft. Like, spongy-mushy-melt-in-your-mouth-but-not-in-a-good-way soft. Noooooooo! What a lot of work and time for a product that was really not tasty.

So overall, this month was kind of "meh" for me. The cookies, when taken together, were just okay, and I thought the written recipes were downright bad--unclear in some areas, and very inaccurate when it came to how much they would yield, and with matching the amount of marshmallow needed to the amount of cookie base, etc.

Sorry to be such a downer. Tomorrow is vanilla bean ice cream extravaganza, and I promise it will be nothing but glowing praise and sticky ice cream-flavored air kisses.

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network. Recipes after the jump.

Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website
Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies
Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Milan Cookies

Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies

• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling:
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Raspberry Blanc-Manger, or, Have We Learned NOTHING from Monty Python?

I hope you all realize that this week’s TWD recipe, blanc-manger, is a loaded gun just waiting to go off. Blanc-manger? BLANC-MANGER?! Do you not understand how dangerous this is? Has no one seen the Monty Python “Science Fiction” sketch, in which it is revealed that extraterrestrial blancmange [sic] puddings have come to earth to eat humans, especially professional tennis players, and that their deviously murderous plan involves turning all of humanity into Scotsmen and then winning at Wimbledon, since everyone knows the Scots are notoriously bad at tennis?!? WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

BEHOLD the fearsome visage of the alien blancmange:

They may look fluffy white and innocent, but they wield a mean tennis racket and are expert players:

Fortunately, just when it seemed the blancmange was going to win Wimbledon--and by extension, doom the human race--some spectators were armed with spoons and knew how to fight off the alien intruders:

And humanity was saved once more…for now.
[To watch the foolishness in its entirety, the Monty Python clip is here. The killer blancmange can be seen just after minute three.]

Ahem. And now for something completely different! A mild-mannered, non-homicidal blanc-manger that wouldn’t know how to play tennis to save its life. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if this blanc-manger WAS an alien lifeform, it was so out-of-this-world delicious. [Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week!]
Seriously. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this dessert much at all. First of all, my only exposure to blanc-manger was in the form of British sketch comedy (see above). Secondly, the description didn’t wow me: a dessert that mostly consisted of gelatin, milk, and whipped cream? Ewww. I am soooo not a fan of desserts with lots of heavy cream. I basically only made it so I could talk about Monty Python on the blog.

Well, the joke’s on me, because I loved, loved, LOVED this puppy. It might be the single biggest pleasant surprise to come from my TWD experience so far. I used fresh raspberries in the blanc-manger, and lots of fresh berries and berry coulis on top. I used really fresh finely ground almonds, and set it all on a base of vanilla sponge cake. The combination of the fresh berries, the lighter-than-air mousse texture with a hint of flavor and substance from the almonds, and the little bit of texture from the cake…fabulous! It’s indecent how much I’ve already eaten, standing over the kitchen sink.

So MAJOR ups to Susan of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy, for introducing me to such an awesome dessert! Did everyone else love it as much as I did?


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pita Bread, Jell-o, and a Radical 80's Dessert

Hey, look, I have a blog! Life’s been busy recently and I took an unplanned blogcation for a few weeks--whoops. Sometimes a little break can be a good thing, though. Here are the highlights:

I had a dinner party recently. The theme was “Dining Through the Decades” and the dinner featured nine courses, each from a different decade in the last century. Most of the courses were “inspired by” the decade rather than straight from that decade’s cookbooks…I really didn’t want to subject my guests to a whole meal of creamed vegetables, Spam, and scary things suspended in Jell-o. Speaking of Jell-o, the 1950’s rainbow Jell-o bundt turned out smashingly:

Six flavors and twelve lovely layers of gelatinous goodness! I never make Jell-o for us just to eat, but we did enjoy snacking on the leftovers, so maybe it'll make its way onto our table again in the future.The dessert was a tribute to the plated desserts of the 1980’s, where fiddly presentation and multiple flavor elements reigned supreme. I was trying to decide between flourless chocolate cake and tiramisu (both ubiquitous pastry menu staples from the 80’s.) Ultimately I got a little lazy and did the chocolate cake instead. It was glazed with ganache and sprinkled with pistachio dust. I plated it with homemade pistachio ice cream and raspberry coulis.

Also, I made pita bread for the first time! Well, it was actually the second time, but this was the first time that it actually puffed and was recognizable as pita bread. My first attempt a few years ago yielded sorry bread rocks welded to a baking sheet. Not delicious. These were light, airy, perfectly puffed, and really tasty! The pitas were fairly simple to make, but I would not say it was a quick process. The dough was made the day before, and it required multiple kneadings, both in the kitchenaid and by hand. Then the day of, there was more resting, kneading, shaping, rolling, and whispering of sweet nothings before it was ready to be baked off.

And then the pitas were baked, one by everlovin' one, on a cast iron skillet on the stovetop. Despite the tedium I enjoyed the baking process, because it never ceased to thrill me when the bread magically transformed from a thin disc into a puffy balloon in the space of a few seconds.
I added some minced garlic to my dough, but the flavor wasn't very strong--it mostly had a nice fresh white bread sort of taste. I would definitely increase the garlic next time, and maybe add some fresh chopped herbs as well. But the basic dough is good on its own, and makes a most excellent hummus delivery system.

Pita Bread

Adapted from The Bread Bible
via Smitten Kitchen

3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (16 oz./454 grams)
2 teaspoons salt (1/2 oz./13.2 grams)
2 teaspoons instant yeast (6.4 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (1 oz./27 grams)
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature (10.4 oz./295 grams)

1. About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough.

Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid) just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds. Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium (#4 KitchenAid), and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (the dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)

Hand method: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together.

Sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.)

Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary.

2. Let the dough rise: Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 2-quart or larger dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days), checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing it down if it starts to rise.

3. Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 475°F one hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating.

4. Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.

5. Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before. (However, those that do not puff well are still delicious to eat.)

Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

To cook the pitas on the stove top: Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 20 seconds, then turn the dough and continue cooking for 1 minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the dough again and cook until the dough balloons. If the dough begins to brown, lower the heat. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

TWD: Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies

Hrmmm. I have serious doubts about these "Tribute to Katharine Hepburn" brownies being an actual tribute to Katharine Hepburn.
I mean, they don't look a thing like her! How can you compare those dull chocolate squares to this dame? Check out her killer cheekbones. They just don't make 'em like they used to.Now HERE'S an example of a brownie that is an actual tribute to Katharine Hepburn:
Okay, so maybe this one doesn't look a thing like her either. But it's the thought that counts, right?

And let me tell you, this lady deserves all the tributes she can get, because this is a fabulous brownie recipe. Almost too fabulous! After half a brownie, my stomach was waving a white flag. These are some deep, rich, chocolatey, fudgy beasts.
I omitted the coffee, but made the rest of the recipe as written. I used Valrhona cocoa and added the optional cinnamon--love the combination of chocolate and cinnamon! In addition to the chopped bittersweet chocolate folded in, the hubs requested walnuts in his brownies, so these had a good amount of crunch that tried--and partially succeeded--in cutting the richness of the gooey brownies.

This recipe is a keeper (sans awkwardly piped Katharine portrait). I imagine these would be amazing as part of a brownie sundae, with some mint chip ice cream on top. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sculpt a Beethoven bust out of lemon bars.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Red, White, and Blue Velvet Cake

Some people celebrate the Fourth of July with picnics, or barbecues, or fireworks, to which I say, fireworks, shmireworks! Let's celebrate with cake instead.
Red, White and Blue Velvet cake, to be exact. It looks super-impressive when it's cut into, but it's not any more complicated to make than a regular red velvet cake. The tricky part is actually getting the blue velvet layer to be the right color. I must have very wimpy blue food coloring, because it takes a *ton* of dye to get the cake a nice, rich, dark shade of blue. I find Americolor gel coloring usually gives me the best results.
I decorated this particular cake with fondant cut-outs. If you don't have any fondant and are too lazy to go buy some, you can make your own with mini marshmallows! Marshmallow fondant is really easy, and I think it tastes better than many store-bought kinds. (Recipe below). It's good for decorations, but I haven't had the best luck using it to cover entire cakes--it's also sensitive to humidity, so if your cake will be in a humid environment for an extended period of time, either apply the decorations at the last minute, or choose another decorating option.
These are also adorable as cupcakes, so don't hold back just because you can't face a layer cake in this abominable heat. Go on, stuff your face with cake and frosting--it's the American way.

Red and Blue Velvet Cake

* 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
* 1 cup vegetable oil
* 1-1/2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
* 2 large eggs, room temperature
* 2 tablespoons red food coloring (or more, depending on your brand)
* 2 tablespoons blue food coloring (or more, depending on your brand)
* 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting

* 1 pound cream cheese, softened
* 2 sticks butter, softened
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9" cake pans and line them with parchment.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large mixing bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides several times.

Divide the batter in half and gently fold the red food coloring into half, and the blue into the other half. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until light and smooth.

Marshmallow Fondant

8 ounces miniature marshmallows (4 cups not packed, or half of a 16-ounce bag)
1 pound powdered sugar (4 cups), plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp water
Food coloring or flavored extracts, optional

Dust your counter or a large cutting board with powdered sugar. Place the marshmallows and the water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute, until the marshmallows are puffy and expanded.

Stir the marshmallows with a rubber spatula until they are melted and smooth. If some unmelted marshmallow pieces remain, return to the microwave for 30-45 seconds, until the marshmallow mixture is entirely smooth and free of lumps. If you want colored or flavored fondant, you can add several drops of food coloring or extracts at this point and stir until incorporated. If you want to create multiple colors or flavors from one batch of fondant, do not add the colors or flavors now.

Add the powdered sugar and begin to stir with the spatula. Stir until the sugar begins to incorporate and it becomes impossible to stir anymore.

Scrape the marshmallow-sugar mixture out onto the prepared work surface. It will be sticky and lumpy, with lots of sugar that has not been incorporated yet--this is normal. Dust your hands with powdered sugar, and begin to knead the fondant mixture like bread dough, working the sugar into the marshmallow with your hands.

Continue to knead the fondant until it smooths out and loses its stickiness. Add more sugar if necessary, but stop adding sugar once it is smooth--too much sugar will make it stiff and difficult to work with. Once the fondant is a smooth ball, it is ready to be used. You can now roll it out, shape it, or wrap it in cling wrap to use later. Well-wrapped fondant can be stored in a cool room or in the refrigerator, and needs to be kneaded until supple before later use.

If you want to add coloring or flavoring to your fondant, flatten it into a round disc. You might want to wear gloves to avoid getting food coloring on your hands during this step. Add your desired amount of coloring or flavoring to the center of the disc, and fold the disc over on itself so that the color or flavor is enclosed in the center of the fondant ball. Begin to knead the ball of fondant just like you did before. As you work it, you will begin to see streaks of color coming through from the center. Continue to knead until the streaks are gone and the fondant is a uniform color. Your fondant is now ready to be used or stored as outlined above.