Monday, April 26, 2010

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chockablock Cookies

I was so glad that Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet picked Chocolablock Cookies for this week's TWD recipe, because after weeks of dueling with bundt pans and tart shells, I was ready for some good old-fashioned cookie love.

But it turns out these chockablock cookies are not your grandma's cookies.
These could also be called "Kitchen Sink Cookies," because they seem to contain everything but. In keeping with the theme of excess, I used as many ingredients as possible. Four kinds of nuts! Three kinds of dried fruit! Three kinds of chocolate! My only regret was not having multiple kinds of oats or coconut to toss in the mix as well.

On a scale of "somewhat" to "very awesome," I would rate these "quite tasty." (Okay, maybe the scale could use some tightening up.) They probably won't replace chocolate chip cookies as my ultimate comfort snack, but they were fun and interesting, and I loved the chewy texture and how every bite had something different.

My one complaint?

They're not so easy on the eyes. With all the add-ins, they're kind of homely little things, bumpy and craggy, hiding their pockets of chocolate instead of flaunting them. What's a photo-obsessed food blogger to do?

Well, I quickly figured out that I couldn't really force them to be more attractive. So then I thought that maybe they would look more delicious if they were presented next to something less so, like a nice refreshing goblet of broccoli:

This might work for confirmed broccoli haters, but I happen to like the green stuff, so it didn't quite work out. What if they were posed next to a huge furry novelty spider?

Well, they're the better looking of the two options, but I'm not sure this picture would pique anyone's appetite. Except maybe the spider's. He looks hungry. I do, however, think we have a winner when the spider is presented on a serving platter:

Coffee, tea, or me?

Yes, when faced with the choice between chockablock cookies or medium-rare furry spider, these cookies are the clear beauty pagent winner! Besides, who needs looks when you taste so good on the inside?

And a final story about these cookies: I made them the day before I had a big race coming up. I decided to make some extra-large cookies to have as a post-race victory meal, sort of a reward for all that running. So I chose the two most delicious looking cookies of the bunch, and packed them in my car to eat after the race.

Well, many hours later, I finished (yay!) and was ready for my big reward. I pull out the cookies, only to find two mashed, mangled discs pancaked together and fused by the powerful Southern California sun. These puppies had been simmering in the heat of my car for 10 hours and were barely recognizable as cookies. They were also extremely fragile and fell apart at the mere grazing of fingertips upon their surface.

So, in a supreme example of poetic justice, I was desperate to eat these ugly cookies--the cookies whose appearance I had already planned on mocking on the blog!--and they were too far gone to be eaten, at least with any semblance of manners or dignity. Wah-wah.

But don't worry, this story has a happy ending. There were plenty of homely but intact cookies waiting for me at home, and I learned a Very Important Lesson about not judging...or something like that. Mmm, cookies!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesdays with Dorie: Cream Biscuits

My mom has been getting a lot of attention on the ole blog, but I don't want you to think that she's the only parenting game in town. Allow me to introduce my father:

In my family, there were a few culinary tasks that always fell to my father: grilling (of course), butchering and filleting fish, and making pie crusts and biscuits. I’m not sure how it is that a man who’s so good at breaking down large fish also has the light touch required for making fluffy biscuits and flaky pie dough, but the fact remains: no one could ever compete with his skills with the pastry cutter. Maybe that’s why I rarely (uh, never) make biscuits myself—I doubt my biscuits now could compete with the biscuits of my childhood, which, in addition to the gobs of butter and jam, also benefit from a hefty heaping of nostalgia.

Nevertheless, this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe called for cream biscuits, so I dusted off my biscuit cutter and got to work. This recipe was unusual in that it didn’t call for butter at all; instead, it gets all its fat from heavy cream. Consequently, these were the easiest biscuits I’ve ever made—no worrying about cutting in cold butter and wondering whether your butter bits are the size of a pea, or a grain of oatmeal, or any other ridiculous food analogy. All you have to do is whisk the dry ingredients and stir in the cream, and you’re done! Easier’n cuttin’ the head offa trout, as my pappy would say.

The resulting biscuits were pretty awesome. Tall, flaky, tender, with a lovely crumb and a firm crust. I’ve always been a sweet biscuit sort of girl, so I ate mine with butter…

and honey…

…and jam.

Okay, so I ate a lot of biscuits! It’s been years since I’ve had them, I was due for a major biscuit binge, and these were delicious. And I won’t say that they were better than dad’s, but I think I need some of dad’s biscuits soon—for comparison purposes, you understand. This is all highly scientific. And then he can grill me some salmon and feed me some pie. For science!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesdays with Mommie III: Swedish Visiting Cake, Bork Bork Bork!

You loved her in Tuesdays with Mommie: Linzer Sables.

You laughed with her and cried with her in the sequel, Tuesdays with Mommie II: Chocolate Souffles.

Now prepare to give her your heart and your stomach in the third installment in this trilogy, Tuesdays with Mommie III: Swedish Visiting Cake Bork Bork BORK!

That's right, I'm up in San Jose visiting my parents again, and I talked my mom into baking with me once more. (And how perfect is it that it was a VISITING cake that we made for our visit?) For cooking inspiration, we looked to the Ultimate Swedish Chef:

Only we're hardcore, so we took our lustrous mustaches and cooking implements and gave it a little more of a Swedish Iron Chef spin:

I don't want to trash talk my momma too much, but she was not so excited about making this cake. (Okay, we were not so excited about it.) Let's face it, it doesn't sound too glamorous. The ingredient list is plain, and even the name is fairly modest. It just doesn't have that decadent appeal we look for in a dessert. Even after it was baked, it still looked unassuming.

But the taste? The taste! MERCIFUL HEAVENS, THE TASTE. This cake was phenomenal! We omitted the almonds on the top so it got its flavor from the lemon zest, which was a perfect accompaniment to the fresh strawberries and strawberry-orange sauce. It was light, and moist, with a beautiful sugar crust and a gorgeous texture. We. loved. this. cake.

This is a good cake, as the Swedes would say, "god kaka." [Um, can that be right? Is google translate pranking me?] What an awesome way to end an awesome visit. For the recipe, visit Nancy's blog--she also usually bakes different sized batches and includes the measurements and conversions, which is supremely useful. Bork bork bork!


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Ballad of A Bad Bundt Pan

This week's TWD recipe was Marbled Mocha-Walnut Bundt Cake. Another bundt cake? You know what this means:

Liz vs. Her Bundt Pan: Ultimate Death Match VI: Bake-Off Boogaloo

Remember last week when I made that Coconut Tea Cake in the bundt pan, and I whined about how my "nonstick" bundt pan was no such thing? Well, dear Leslie suggested that I coat it with shortening, then nonstick cooking spray, then flour. Aha, I thought to myself, not one, not two, but THREE elements that prohibit stickiness! This plan cannot fail!

Any guesses as to what happened next?

Bundt pan: 6 (or 7, I've lost count by now) Liz: 0

Look at it there, smirking at me with its stupid smirky bundt face.

Now, I'm no bundt technician. I didn't major in Bundt Studies in college (choosing instead the only slightly more helpful American Studies, ah, the liberal arts! Producing bitter temp workers by the thousands) but I am sort of a ninja when it comes to covering up my kitchen mistakes. So I got crafty with a soft plastic knife, and ever so delicately massaged the remaining cake back together in an approximation of its original shape.

I had originally made a chocolate sauce to serve alongside the cake, but once I saw the sorry state of this bundt, I knew there needed to be a more drastic cover-up. Fortunately, the sauce I made was Sherry Yard's 10-Year Chocolate Sauce*, which actually works moderately well as a poured icing, so I heated it until it was very liquid and poured it over the cake. Success! No one would ever know what horrors lurk beneath.

*Please make this sauce. It is outrageous. A wonderful texture, and a great tangy taste (I used sour cream in place of creme fraiche.) It was a bit thick to pour, but if the cream was increased by a few tbsps it'd be perfect. Or you could omit the cream to thicken it and have an awesome spreadable frosting. Love.

A word of strategy if you're ever in the same situation: put the cake on a cardboard round! It was way too unstable to handle the glazing and transferring to a serving platter, so I scooted a round underneath it and trimmed it at an angle so the cake hung slightly over the edge. You can't even tell from the pictures. See, what'd I tell you? Ninja.

To complete the deception, I piled the bundt high with fresh farmer's market strawberries and candied walnuts. I actually put a shot glass in the center of the cake and then just put berries on top for the photo, so there weren't strawberries piled all the way down into the center. It's an illusion. Also, I'm not sure why I'm suddenly compelled to unburden all of my deep dark baking and photographing secrets. Maybe I shouldn't have had that Truthiness Tonic at lunch.

I didn't make the mocha version, mine was just a chocolate-vanilla cake. And I got a little crazy adding the chocolate, so the marbling suffered a little bit. Next time I'll keep more batter plain, and exercise more restraint with the swirlin' knife. We had this cake for Easter dessert, along with the rest of the chocolate sauce, fresh strawberries, the candied nuts, and my very favorite homemade vanilla-honey ice cream (recipe under the cut).

We both loved this cake, but I think it really helped that it was covered with chocolate frosting and sauce, and served with so many extras. On its own it seemed a little plain and unexciting, but it got by with a little help from its friends.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bundt pan I need to go karate chop.

Vanilla-Honey Ice Cream

1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup honey
2-1/4 cups half-and-half cream
3 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cup heavy cream
1 TBSP teaspoon vanilla extract

Break the eggs into a medium-sized bowl and lightly whisk them.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the sugar and half-and-half. When the mixture begins to simmer, remove from heat, and whisk half of the mixture into the eggs. Whisk quickly so that the eggs do not scramble. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan, and stir in the heavy cream.

Continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. (I always use a thermometer--175 degrees F is the magic number.) Remove from heat, and whisk in vanilla. Pour into a bowl, cover the top with cling-wrap, and refrigerate until completely cool.

Pour cooled mixture into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Notes: You can omit the honey and use 1.5 cups of granulated sugar. For a stronger vanilla flavor, use 1 vanilla pod, scraped, and reduce the vanilla extract.
Also, this makes a DELICIOUS cinnamon ice cream! Simmer the half and half with 1-2 cinnamon sticks, and/or add ground cinnamon at the end with the vanilla. So. Good.


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Raised Yeast Waffles, A Cure for What Ails Ya

It seems somewhat unfair to be posting about the world's most delicious waffles now, on Sunday night, when most of the food-blogging world won't be in a position to make long, leisurely breakfasts for another 5 days. Forgive me. It's just that we had these incredible waffles this morning, and--although I wasn't planning on blogging about them--once I had them, I couldn't not share them. May I introduce: Marion Cunningham's Raised Waffles.

These waffles are actually fairly famous around the blogosphere, so perhaps some of have already made them and are rolling your eyes at me, all 2000 and late. I myself make waffles approximately twice a year (I fall firmly into the oatmeal or eggs breakfast camp) so I don't have a vast repertoire of waffle recipes to fall back on. I heard about this particular recipe this weekend on a food program on NPR. The host rhapsodized on and on and on about how great they are, and being an easily impressionable sheep, I couldn't get the thought of waffles out of my mind. One day later: ta-da!

So what makes these waffles different? They're made from a yeasted batter that's prepared the night before and left to rise overnight at room temperature. In the morning, the final few ingredients (eggs and baking soda) are stirred in, and they're ready to cook. This is my ideal set-up, because usually by the time I have talked myself into making waffles, I'm ravenous and far too impatient to wait while the egg whites get whipped and gently folded into the batter. True, this method takes a little advanced preparation, but it's only about 10 minutes in the evening, and another 2 or 3 the next morning. Even a hungry hungry hippo such as myself can handle that.

These waffles differ from their cakier cousins in both taste and texture. The overnight rise of the yeast gave them a tangy, yeasty flavor similar to a mild sourdough bread--sort of what some buttermilk waffle recipes aspire to have. The texture was what really sold me, though. They're impossibly light, and the outside is so crisp it nearly shatters right off the iron, but underneath the crisp exterior, there are soft pockets with an almost custardy interior. Bliss!

Even if you don't have a free morning this week to laze around with the paper and a plate of waffles, you could spend a few minutes before work whipping up the batter, and enjoy the ever-popular breakfast for dinner. I can't think of a better way to finish up a work day.

Raised Waffles
From The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham

1/2 cup warm water
1 package dried yeast
2 cups warm milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Use a rather large mixing bowl--the batter will rise to double its original volume. Put the water in the mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand to dissolve for 5 minutes. Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour to the yeast mixture and beat until smooth and blended. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature. Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs, add the baking soda , and stir until well mixed. The batter will be very thin. Pour about 1/2-3/4 cup batter into a very hot waffle iron. Bake until golden and crisp. This batter will keep for several days in the refrigerator.


Friday, April 02, 2010


It's April, so Coconut Month may technically be over, but that doesn't mean I have to quit the white stuff cold turkey, does it?

This past week I made a recipe I've been dreaming up in my head for awhile now: the Mounds Brownie. (Similar recipes may exist, but I couldn't find one that sounded good to me, so this is my own beautiful Frankenbrownie.) The Mounds brownie consists of two layers of moist, fudgy, supremely chocolatey brownies sandwiching a gooey coconut filling. If you're more of an Almond Joy person, you could easily top it with a layer of chocolate frosting and a generous sprinkle of toasted slivered almonds.
This is my very favorite kind of brownie: it's so fudgy it seems almost underdone in the center, but it has a beautiful crackly top from the cocoa. On its own it may be almost too rich and chocolately, but in this context, with the coconut filling, I think its intense flavor and texture add to the candy bar-like appeal.

The coconut layer in the center is simply shredded coconut mixed with condensed milk and a generous pinch of salt (to keep it from being too sweet...riiiiiight...). It stays moist and a bit gooey, especially when it mixes with the fudgy brownie. Because the decadent texture is so important to these brownies, please, please don't overbake them. Only YOU can prevent dry pastries.

And just in case these don't seem deadly enough on their own, I have it on good authority (ie, my stomach's) that they are insanely good when topped with a spoonful of warm, oozing dulce de leche. I think I know a few bakers who might have some leftover dulce de leche that should be put to good use...

Mounds Brownies

For the brownies:
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick) cut into quarters
3 tablespoons good-quality cocoa powder
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (5 oz) all-purpose flour

For the coconut filling:
2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
Hefty pinch of salt

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 pan with aluminum foil, and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. In a small bowl, stir together the coconut and the condensed milk until the coconut is evenly moistened, and set aside for now.

2. Melt the chocolates with the butter in the microwave, stirring after every 45 seconds to prevent overheating. (You could also use a double boiler if you're old-school.) Once melted, whisk in cocoa until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture; then stir in flour with wooden spoon until just combined.

4. Pour approximately half of the brownie mixture into prepared pan, spread it into the corners and spread it into an even layer. Spread the coconut layer on top--I've found that this is easiest to do by spooning portions of it over the entire pan, and then smoothing the spoonfuls together. Don't apply too much pressure, or it will sink into the brownie layer. Once the coconut is fairly evenly spread, pour the rest of the brownie batter over it, and spread it into an even layer on top.

5. Bake the brownies until they are slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, about 35 minutes. If in doubt, err on the side of underbaking them.

These are bonkers when served warm, with caramel sauce or vanilla ice cream.