Monday, November 29, 2010

TWD: Devlishly Good Chocolate Shortcakes

Whew! One major holiday down, one big one to go. Now that I have somewhat recovered, I can tell you that Thanksgiving was epic. My friends, we had three pies and one cake for four adults. Plus whipped cream. And ice cream. It was obscene. There are not enough stretchy-waisted pants in the world to satisfy me after the last week of pie scarfing and cookie dough ball chowin'. So how did I end up making yet another dessert?

Well, when said dessert involves a little of this...


I AM POWERLESS IN THE FACE OF GANACHE. If someone ever puts that slogan on a t-shirt I'll buy one in every color.

This week's TWD recipe was for "Devilish Shortcakes," a chocolate variety of the traditional shortcake. Early bakers reported that they weren't very flavorful on their own, so I decided to jazz mine up with some (woefully out of season and somewhat disappointing) raspberries, whipped cream, and a bittersweet chocolate ganache.

Despite outwardly resembling some things that cannot be mentioned in delicate company, these biscuit-like shortcakes had a nice, subtle chocolate flavor. I used Valhrona cocoa powder, which helped give them some oomph, and I think adding some finely chopped chocolate next time would also be a good idea.

When topped with the berries, soft whipped cream, and warm chocolate sauce, they were pretty incredible. I loved that they were tender on the inside and a little crunchy on top--it reminded me of eating the top layer of a chocolate cake, and everyone knows cake top is the best part! They were mixed and baked in about 25 minutes, which is faster than any chocolate cake I've ever made.

What did everyone else think? Were you all desserted out, or up for a chocolatey diversion?


Friday, November 26, 2010

Adventures in Cookie Dough Balls

It's the day after Thanksgiving, which means most of us are lolling around, trying to shake off yesterday's food coma while simultaneously justifying today's breakfast of pumpkin pie + whipped cream (vegetables and dairy!). So I really have no business posting about more desserts, especially desserts that are completely unrelated to pumpkins, apples, pilgrims, or Indians.


I have recently been inducted into the mysterious world of cookie dough balls, and I really can't keep it to myself.

Cookie. Dough. Balls?

Oh yes. These are balls of cookie dough baked until barely set in the middle, so that they can be handled like a cookie but retain most of the taste and texture of cookie dough. Think they sound awesome? You're totally right.

I tried two very different recipes, one for chocolate chip, and one for peanut butter chocolate chip. I don't feel like either is my perfect recipe, so I'll probably keep tweaking them, but let's face it, I'm not going to kick these cookie dough balls out of bed, so I figured I'd share the love while I labor in the Cake or Death kitchen perfecting them.

First up: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls. These were basically a modified chocolate chip cookie dough, with less butter and more flour, baked cold so that they spread a bit less. While the end result was pretty tasty, I thought the dough needed more sugar, and the cookies were closer to actual cookies than dough balls, even though I baked them less than the time recommended.

The thing is, even imperfect cookie dough balls are still REALLY good. We polished these puppies off posthaste.

Next: peanut butter chip cookies. These were modified from a vegan recipe (hello, buttah) but they could easily be made vegan, since they don't have any eggs and you can re-substitute vegan margarine for the butter. The big difference in these cookies is that they use powdered sugar instead of granulated, which made a huge difference in the texture and produced a much stiffer dough without adding more flour.

The dough was actually too dry and crumbly for me, but after I added a little invert sugar, it held together well and produced this sexy beast:

Soft, melting, but with a slightly crisp exterior...these were seriously good. So if you haven't died of a sugar overdose yet, the recipes are below with my notes and suggested changes. And you'd better believe I'm going to keep fiddling with these until I find the perfect recipe...stay tuned.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls
original recipe from The Chic Life, my changes in red brackets

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick butter, softened/room-temp
1 tbsp sugar [I would bump this way up, at least 1/3 cup. Next time I'm going to try powdered sugar instead of granulated, too]
1 egg (or flaxseed-egg)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips [I used 1 cup and had no regrets]

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda.

In a medium bowl, mix sugars and butter till creamy. [I used a stand mixer, but DON'T beat these until light and fluffy. You don't want to add extra air, which will cause them to spread.] Add egg and vanilla and mix till combined.

Mix wet into the dry. Note: it will appear there is not enough liquid for the amount of dry ingredients, but continue mixing. It will form into a dough, it will just be a firm dough. Careful to not overmix.

Gently fold chocolate chips into the dough, without overmixing.

Refrigerate dough for at least 20 minutes before using a small sorbet scoop to scoop out dough into small mounds. Roll each mound into a ball and spread evenly on a baking sheet, leaving roughly 2-3 inches between each ball. Preheat oven to 350 and spread parchment on baking sheets.

Bake balls for 10-14 minutes, depending on how set you want your centers. [I baked for 9 and thought I could have gone a little less]. Let your dough balls rest on the baking sheet to cool at least 5-10 minutes.

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Balls
original recipe from Peas and Thank You, my changes in red brackets

1/2 c. non-dairy margarine [I used sweet, sweet butter]
3/4 c. natural peanut butter [I used 1 cup]
1/2 c. organic brown sugar
3/4 c. organic powdered sugar
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour [I used 1.5 cups AP]
1/2 c. unbleached organic flour [see above]
1/2 c. natural peanut butter chips
1/2 c. non-dairy chocolate chips
[I added 2 tbsp invert sugar]**

Using a stand mixer, beat margarine, peanut butter, sugars and vanilla until fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, combine baking powder, baking soda, salt and flours.

Add dry mixture to the mixer bowl a little at a time. Mix until a dough forms, add chips, c
combine and chill dough for 30 minutes.

preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Scoop dough with a mini ice cream scoop (or your fingers) and place balls on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. [I baked for 10 minutes, they were perfect.] They’ll still be soft and look much like they did going in, but don’t overbake. Let the dough balls rest on the pan for a minute before transferring to a cooling rack.

**Invert sugar is a liquid with a consistency similar to corn syrup, composed of glucose and fructose. A good scientific overview can be found here. It's great to add to cookies if you want them to stay moist and gooey, and it's also great in candies to prevent crystallization and to keep ganache fudgy and soft.

Final Thoughts
I loved the addition of invert sugar--it made the cookies stay really soft and moist and doughy. However since it's not as readily available in grocery stores, I'd like to try to get to a recipe that produces the same effect with common sugars. I think the key is finding the right mix of brown, granulated, and powdered sugars to give them structure without drying them out. More experimenting to come!


Monday, November 15, 2010

TWD: Cranberry-Lime Galette

For many of us, the capital-H Holidays are approaching, and I don't know about you, but I feel like I've already been run over by a festive seasonal truck and it's barely mid-November. The last few months I've felt like Wile E. Coyote frantically churning my legs in midair, trying to run across the sky without looking down. All of which is to say, I'm sorry I haven't been reading and commenting much on blogs. Or blogging here, for that matter. Or showering as often as I should. (I guess that last one mostly applies to the husband. Love youuuuu.)

The hectic pace recently has made me grateful for simplicity wherever I can find it, like in this week's Cranberry-Lime Galette:

Galettes, or as I like to call them, "pies for lazy people," are a genius invention. Pie dough is piled high with filling, then the edges are folded over and the whole thing is baked on a cookie sheet. No tearing of misshapen top crusts, no crimping of edges, and no trying to wiggle perfect slices out of a reluctant pie tin. It's just fill, fold, bake, and devour. Near-instant gratification.

The filling in this case was a seasonal blend of fresh cranberries, dried cranberries, and apples, plus a surprise sneak attack from lime zest, lime juice, and fresh ginger. I cut down the amount of fresh ginger and it still shone through beautifully. This galette contained a lot of strong flavors, but they all worked surprisingly well together.

I continued my love affair with spiced whipped cream and made another batch flavored with vanilla and cinnamon to top this galette. I think cream--or possibly ice cream--is definitely necessary to mellow the tart flavors and balance everything out. So you have my permission--nay, my orders--to eat this with gobs of whipped cream. It's necessary! And oh so delicious.

You guys, I don't want to freak you out, but Thanksgiving is next week. When did this happen, and what are we going to do about it?? Have you all started planning your menus? Forget all the turkey junk, what are you making for dessert? I'm thinking the Cranberry Shortbread Cake is going to have to make another appearance.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

TWD: Cranberry Shortbread Cake

Yesterday afternoon, as I was spoiling my husband's dinner by force-feeding him cranberry cake and whipped cream, he looked me in the eyes and said, with great feeling, "Miy WOUFF Troiusdapes miff Rorfty!"

Fortunately, we have been married long enough that I'm able to translate Full Mouth into English, and knew that he was saying that he loved Tuesdays with Dorie. I have to agree! I have so many wonderful cookbooks that I only consult when I'm baking for a special occasion. I'm sure Baking: From My Home to Yours would be one of those without a weekly obligation to make and blog about a recipe. I'm not sure I ever would have made this Cranberry Shortbread Cake without the prodding of a baking group, but I'm so glad I did.

First, we must discuss this dessert's identity crisis. Shortbread...cake...? Que? To me it tasted most like a double-crusted tart, which is definitely not a bad thing. The crust was similar to a sugar cookie dough, with a great mix of a crackling sugary crust and a tender crumb inside.

Inside is a simple cranberry-orange jam, with enough sugar to round out the tart edges but enough bite to balance the sweet dough. I chickened out a little with the filling, and didn't use all of it because it seemed like it might overwhelm the thin crust. In retrospect I could have used the full amount, but it didn't seem to be lacking for flavor, either.

The real kicker, for me, was the softly whipped cream on top. I added lots of vanilla and a little cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg to the cream, and the combination of spices, aromatic vanilla, and sweet cream on the tart cranberry cake was fantastic. I'm not usually much of a whipped cream fan, but I wanted to put this in a Big Gulp cup and drink it with a straw.

Not that that actually happened.


The final touch was a few of these glazed cranberries. The recipe couldn't be easier--fresh cranberries dunked in whisked egg whites, then rolled in granulated sugar. After an hour or two the sugar crust gets hard, so they almost explode in your mouth when you bite into them. The berries are juicy and fairly sour, but the sugar keeps them from being too lip-puckering. These were the perfect finishing touch to an already perfect dessert. I'm looking forward to experimenting with this recipe and using sauteed apples for the filling, and maybe a strawberry/rhubarb combination come spring.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

TWD: Peanuttiest Blondies

I'm more than a little obsessed with peanut butter--well, with nut butters in general. In my cupboards I have 4 different kinds of peanut butter and 3 other nut butters, and that's not even counting the coconut butter variations. Some might say I have a problem with nut butter consumption, but one person's problem is another person's pleasure.

I have found ways to have peanut butter in practically every meal. In the mornings before I run I have a "banana taco," a banana cut in half lengthwise and spread with a thick layer of chunky peanut butter. I like to have some with my afternoon apple, and I have been known to add a spoonful to soups or stews to give it a hearty, thick flavor. I also have a habit of running my finger around the inside of the jar and then sprinkling the peanut-butter smeared finger with chocolate chips before gnawing on it, but that's not what we're talking about today.

Today we're talking about peanut-chocolate blondies:

I don't mean to be a stickler, but if you're calling something "peanuttiest blondies" I expect to be punched in the face with peanut flavor. These were good, no doubt about it, but I thought the actual peanut taste was pretty mild, considering they had chopped peanuts, peanut butter, and I subbed some peanut flour for regular AP in the mix. I did add quite a bit of chopped chocolate to the mix, so the overall effect was of a peanuttyish chocolate chip bar.

Oh, and I think I overbaked them. I've had a fear of underbaked bar cookies ever since I created this hot mess back in July:

So I had a "better safe than sorry" policy where these bars were concerned, and they took their sweet time in the oven.

Still, these were eagerly devoured around the house and by J's students, and I found that just a thin layer of peanut butter smeared on top made them perfect for me!