Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oh Yes I Did: Cinnamon Roll Sugar Cookies

Two words: sugar cookies.

Two more words: cinnamon rolls.

One question: can they be combined?

Oh, yeahhhhh.

This recipe-slash-BEST-IDEA-EVER comes courtesy of Jenny at Picky Palate. The second I saw it I bookmarked the page and returned regularly to drool, plan, and plot my way into making these cookies.

The idea couldn't be simpler. Take some sugar cookie dough and roll it out into a thin-ish sheet. (Mine worked best when it was about 1/4-inch thick.) Spread on some softened butter--I'm sorry, but it must be done--and then sprinkle liberally with brown sugar and cinnamon. Treat these babies like the cinnamon rolls they aspire to be!

Roll the dough, slice it into thick rounds, then bake it up. The cookies blossom into soft, sweet rounds with crisp edges and moist middles, with a buttery cinnamon swirl threaded throughout.

And did I mention the finishing touch? A drizzle of cream cheese icing, with a touch of vanilla or lemon, to complete the resemblance to cinnamon rolls, no yeast dough required.

I made these with leftover sugar cookie dough, and it's just about the best use for leftover dough I can imagine. The dough was fairly stiff and meant to be used to make precise cutout cookies. I suspect a soft dough that makes those pillowy round sugar cookies would work even better. If you'd like a recipe for the sugar cookies themselves, I'll refer you to the source at Picky Palate for further enlightenment.


Monday, March 21, 2011

TWD: Honey-Nut Brownies

Things You Should Know About Honey-Nut Brownies

1. They sound like a delicious breakfast cereal
2. They look and taste more like a honey cake than a chocolate brownie
3. They are much improved by a thick layer of fudgy chocolate-sour cream frosting
4. There is nothing in the world that is not much improved by a thick layer of fudgy chocolate-sour cream frosting

I think the big problem with these "brownies" was a branding issue. Calling something brownies leads to the expectation of chocolatey delight, whereas these were more of a honey explosion with faint chocolate undertones. Which is not bad, if you enjoy honey cake. Which I...sort of do.

In an effort to boost the chocolate flavor, I used only unsweetened chocolate and increased it by 2 oz (50%!). It was only semi-successful, though, and the cake still had a very strong honey flavor. So I brought out the big guns: a thick, fudgy chocolate sour cream frosting, which helped increase the chocolate taste and counteract the overwhelming sweetness. Top it with a pinch of flaky sea salt, and you have a lovely, complex cake that's none too sweet and perfectly moist and rich!

In the end I'd say it was a fairly successful chocolateish cake, but probably not one I'd repeat on a regular basis, unless it was for a honey lover of the exceptional variety. If you are such a person, the original recipe can be found on the Suzy Homemaker blog.

If you are only here for the chocolate sour cream frosting (and who could blame you?) here goes:

10 oz semi- or bitter-sweet chocolate (chocolate chips will do in a pinch, use better chocolate if you have it)
1 cup full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler, and stir until smooth.

Whisk in the sour cream and the vanilla until you have a thick frosting.

Pour immediately over cake in pan and smooth into an even layer. Let set at room temperature or refrigerate to speed up the process-frosting gets very thick in the refrigerator.

Makes enough to frost the top of a 9x13 sheet cake.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Marzipan Brownie Tart

Happy St. Patrick's Day! To celebrate, we had this festive dessert:

Okay, so it doesn't look very festive from the outside. Actually, it looks downright plain. Homely. FRUMPY. There, I said it. But it has a surprise inside...

A bright green layer of homemade pistachio marzipan!

...Wait, come back.

What scared you? Was it the green color, or the word "marzipan"? Because I promise, this has no relation to the poisonously powerful almond flavor and uber-sweetness of some aggressive marzipans. No, this is just a simple nut paste made from ground pistachios, powdered sugar, and a little egg. Really. It's amazingly tasty, like eating fresh pistachios with a spoon. Deep breaths. Okay.

So paired with this marzi pistachio stuff is a chocolate dough that's half brownie, half chocolate tart dough. It's weird, and I was sure I was doing it wrong the whole time I was making it. But it turned out to be perfect--soft enough to meld with the pistachio stuff, but firm enough to hold its shape when removed from the tart pan.

To finish off our green treat, I made my favorite pistachio ice cream and a simple chocolate sauce. Although the tart is moist, it needs something--ice cream, or whipped cream, or maybe creme anglaise--to perk it up. Many, many thanks to Mary Mary Culinary for the tart recipe & inspiration! Find the recipe for the tart, the "pistachio stuff," and the ice cream after the jump.

Marzipan Brownie Tart
Adapted from Mary Mary Culinary

9 oz/1⅓ cups all-purpose flour*
⅓ cup Dutch-process cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
7 oz/1 cup brown sugar
6 oz/¾ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg, well beaten

10½ oz pistachio marzipan (see below)
about ½-¾ of a beaten egg (reserve the rest for glazing)

1. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg and run the food processor until the dough comes together. Try not to eat all the dough. Divide the dough into ⅓ and ⅔ portions, shape in discs, wrap separately in plastic and refrigerate. Chill for one hour. It can be made the day before, but will need to warm up before rolling to prevent it from breaking up.
2. Preheat oven to 340℉/170℃ and grease a 9" cake pan, or a 13"x4" tart pan.
3. Mix the pistachio paste with enough beaten egg to make a fairly soft, spreadable filling. Set aside. Roll out the larger portion of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap until it is about 1" larger than your pan on all sides. Make sure there are no creases in the plastic wrap. Use this piece of dough to line the pan, pressing it to the sides of the pan so it doesn't fall inward. Spread the pistachio paste evenly over the dough and fold in the dough edges so they rest on it. Reuse the plastic wrap to roll the smaller piece of dough into an 8½" circle. It should be slightly smaller than the cake pan. Trim it so the edges are neat. Moisten the edges of the dough in the pan and lay the smaller circle on top. Press the edges gently together to seal. Brush with the leftover beaten egg and prick with a fork in several places.
4. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Leave to cool in the pan, then transfer carefully to a serving plate. If you can stand it, wrap this and let it sit for a day or two before serving for best flavor.

*a note about the flour: something is off in these measurements. It calls for 1-1/3 cup/ 9 oz, but 9 oz is much closer to 2 cups. I went with the volume measurement and had a dough that was pretty stick and a bit of a beast to roll out. It worked out fine in the end, and tasted great, but I might add more flour next time to make it easier to work with. If you have a scale, I'd just use 9 oz, and if you don't, I'd try 1-3/4 cup flour instead.

Pistachio marzipan
10 ounces/283 grams shelled pistachios
7 ounces/200 grams granulated sugar
2 egg whites

1. If you want naturally bright green marzipan, first blanch the pistachios: bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pistachios and blanch for 30 seconds to one minute. Test one by running it under cold water and seeing if the reddish skin comes off easily. If so, drain and rinse with cold water. Now, one by one, squeeze the pistachios to remove the skin. This is what keeps the marzipan bright green. Once they are all skinned, place on a towel-lined baking tray and allow to dry for at least 3 hours. Do not dry in the oven, as the color may fade.
2. Combine pistachios and sugar in a food processor and grind as finely as desired.
3. Add egg whites and process until well blended. If you didn't blanch the pistachios and the marzipan is a little brown, you can add a drop or two of green food coloring. Scrape into a container and refrigerate or freeze. This keeps well, and is best made in advance.

Pistachio Ice Cream

yield: About 3 cups

1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 large egg yolks
1 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, toasted, coarsely chopped

Finely grind 1 cup pistachios and 1/4 cup sugar in processor. Bring milk and ground pistachio mixture to boil in heavy large saucepan. Remove from heat. Mix in almond extract.
Whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture. Return custard to saucepan. Cook over low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes (do not boil). Strain into large bowl. Chill until cold, about 2 hours.
Stir 1 cup whipping cream and chopped pistachios into custard. Process mixture in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.


Monday, March 14, 2011

TWD: Citrus Cranberry Sunshine Muffins

Citrus sunshine muffins, you say? I've got your sunshine right here:

Well, okay, that's not so impressive. But you have to believe me that it's been very sunny and downright hot here the past few days! The perfect weather to pair with these bright and cheery muffins:

I am permanently done with currants since my stint living in England, land o' the currants and custard, so I substituted cranberries in their stead. I used the zest of two oranges and a lemon and although I thought for sure it would result in overwhelming zestiness and general awesomeness, the citrus flavor was still not bold enough for me! Next time I'm chucking in a whole grapefruit and that'll be the end of it.

I also thought these muffins could use some sexy accessorizing--maybe a little drizzle here, or a streusel topping there? Nothing crazy, but a little something to perk them up. As they were, their flat top and coarse crumb will never get them asked to the homecoming dance. But add a little lippy, lose the glasses, and bam--I've just improved these muffins and told you the plot to She's All That in one short paragraph.

One last thing--I just have to point out that cute bowl holding the muffins. You can't see it very well in most of the pics, but it's actually a bunny bowl! They were a graduation gift from my aunt, and I think they're just the cutest thing since post-makeover Rachel Leigh Cook in She's All That. Unfortunately they fall into the category of "so lovely I'm afraid to use them every day so I'll put them somewhere safe" so they don't get used as much as I'd like. Until now. Ta-daaa.

Want the recipe? Head over to Lauryn's blog, Bella Baker, to get it--she also has a $40 CSN giveaway going on right now, if free stuff is your thing. No word on whether CSN stocks bunny bowls.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pink Grapefruit Cake

Hey, remember that time I had all those oranges and grapefruits, and begged for citrus recipes? You guys had some awesome ideas, and I dutifully bookmarked them and printed them and planned on a whopper of a Citrus Month...and then ate almost all of the fruit raw. Grapefruit for breakfast, sometimes two or three oranges per lunch--they were just that good. So unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) very few of the citrus fruits actually made it into baked goods.

But! I was able to save a few from my ravenous lunch-belly and make a few goodies, like this Pink Grapefruit Cake. I've actually been intending to bake this for over a year now, ever since I first saw it on Two Peas and Their Pod. I'm no stranger to baking with oranges or lemons, but pink grapefruit...now that sounded intriguing!

This cake recipe uses grapefruit zest in the batter, and grapefruit juice in a soaking syrup and glaze, so it's full of tart citrus flavor. It also has plenty of greek yogurt to keep it moist and add a little extra tang.

It turned out to be a quiet, sweet little thing--not a showy birthday cake, but perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up next to a glass of tea. And, if you happen to nibble on it for breakfast one morning, you won't even feel too guilty--it's just that light and tart and refreshing.

Pink Grapefruit Yogurt Cake
from Two Peas and Their Pod

3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 1/2 pink grapefruits
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup canola oil

Grapefruit Syrup
[I doubled this amount]
1/4 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
2 T granulated sugar

Grapefruit Glaze
[doubled this and I added about 1/2 tsp of citric acid to make it more tart]
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2-3 T freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Dust lightly with flour too. Set pan aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, add the grapefruit zest to the sugar. Rub together with your fingers until fragrant. In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, sugar, and zest with large spoon or spatula. Whisk in the eggs-you can do all three at once. Mix until smooth and then add in the vanilla and stir again.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Mix just until flour is incorporated.

Add the oil and mix well. It might take a minute to get the oil mixed in, but it will.

Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until your cake tester comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly touched in the center.

Cool on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes and then remove from the pan. While the cake is cooling make the syrup and glaze.

For the syrup, in a small sauce pan add the grapefruit juice and sugar. Whisk over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.

For the glaze, in a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and grapefruit juice. If it is too thick, add more juice, if it is too runny, add more sugar.

Poke little holes into the cake with a toothpick. Spoon the grapefruit syrup over the cake and let it soak in. Let the cake cool to room temperature and then add the glaze. Drizzle over the top of the cake.


Monday, March 07, 2011

TWD: Corniest Corn Muffins

It's a rare day when I post a savory recipe on this here blog. I think this is literally only the 3rd or 4th non-dessert to be posted since this blog started lo these many years ago. And one of the previous times was another TWD cornbread recipe!
The truth is, I don't have a clearly defined reason for focusing just on desserts. I like cooking all kinds of things. I like eating all kinds of things. I certainly like having a balanced diet where sweets do not comprise 99% of my intake, all blog appearances to the contrary. But for some reason, I most enjoy photographing and writing about desserts, and since I already struggle to carve out time for my personal blog, it always seems to make the most sense to do what's most fun.

With all of that being said, these "Corniest Corn Muffins" we made this week were sort of like a sweet in disguise. The original recipe called for 6 tbsp of sugar for 12 muffins (I only got 10 out of the batch) and I reduced that by half so they wouldn't be too jarringly sweet. I also added chopped thyme and rosemary and used fire-roasted corn from TJ's to make them a little more savory.

Served with black bean chili, these corn muffins were amazing! Moist inside, with that crispity crackly crust that's so good for dipping in soups. I loved the addition of the fresh herbs, and think next time I might add some grated pepper jack as well.

The recipe can be found on Jill's blog, My Next Life. And with that, I leave you with the greatest cinematic mention of cornbread, ever.

P.S. I got a few questions last week on the Pot de Creme post about where I got those cute little white cups. They're darling, right? Unfortunately I got them at a thrift store a few months ago, so I'm not much use in helping other people find them. I've actually had great luck finding beautiful glassware at various thrift stores for really cheap--each of those white cups was 39 cents each! If anyone is ever in Pasadena, Acts Thrift Store on Hill & Locust has the absolute best selection of kitchen stuff in the area!


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Mini Chocolate Doughnuts

I hope this doesn't make you uncomfortable, but I have to share. In January, we went to New York City, and I had a spiritual experience.

I went here, and my life was changed forever:

Prior to my trip to the Doughnut Plant, I was lukewarm on the question of doughnuts. Sure, I'd been known to eat them, but usually under conditions of extreme hunger or boredom or to win a bet.*

*That never actually happened. But how great would it be to win money for eating doughnuts?

Point being, I'd had a lot of mediocre doughnuts, and didn't think, in general, assembly-line fried dough was anything special. But then.

These doughnuts, at the Doughnut Plant? They are something special.

We actually made two trips to the shop, because the first time we went it looked like this:

MAYDAY MAYDAY. Doughnut Plant is closed on Mondays. Save yourself the heartbreak we experienced and check the days/hours before you go!

So after making two trips to the Lower East Side to try these doughnuts, we decided to go big and get a half-dozen flavors. Among those, we tried...

The distinctive square PB&J, filled with fresh raspberry jam and glazed with a chunky peanut butter glaze, which made Jason moan like this:

The Valhrona chocolate doughnut, full of chocolate pastry cream, which made me grin like this:

The carrot cake doughnut, packed with carrots, walnuts, raisins, and actual cream cheese frosting in the middle of the doughnut,

and the signature creme brulee doughnut, with a crackly, caramelized sugar top and a filling of vanilla pastry cream.

The Doughnut Plant's gotten a lot of buzz and I'm sure there's going to be a huge backlash soon (Magnolia Bakery anyone?) but for what it's worth, all of our doughnuts were excellent and we seriously considered making the hike across town the next day to pig out on more doughnuts.

So after my transformative doughnut experience, I was much more open to doughnuts in my life. And when I was at Sur La Table and saw this adorable mini doughnut pan, well...it had to be mine.

To be sure, the doughnuts you make with this pan aren't "real" doughnuts. They're cake-style, not yeast, and they're baked instead of fried. In taste and texture, they're really more like a doughnut-shaped chocolate cupcake. But what a cute doughnut shape they have!

These mini doughnuts have an intense chocolate taste that's enhanced by the chocolate ganache glaze on top. They're good for two (or possibly three, if you're dainty) bites, and we can say from firsthand experience that they're the perfect sweets for munching on during game or movie nights.

Okay, so they're not Doughnut Plant doughnuts. But they're still tasty, and they bake in five minutes, and they're a good excuse to go crazy with my sprinkle collection. And isn't that enough?

Chocolate Doughnuts
yields: about 4 dozen mini doughnuts

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup buttermilk
1.5 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a mini doughnut pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, buttermilk, and melted butter.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry. Use a pastry bag fitted with a round 1/2" tip to pipe the batter into a thin layer in each doughnut mold. (It will rise a great deal, don't add too much or your doughnuts will puff out of the mold.)

Bake for 4-6 minutes, until they spring back when lightly pressed. Allow to cool in the mold for 5 minutes, then gently remove and cool completely.

Ganache glaze
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup chopped chocolate

Heat cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour hot cream over the chopped chocolate, and gently whisk to combine. Let ganache cool slightly so that it gets a bit thicker, then dip the tops of the doughnuts in the glaze. If it's getting too cool and thick, you can microwave it briefly to thin it out again. Sprinkle the tops of the doughnuts with sprinkles while the ganache is still wet.
1 In a bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, buttermilk, and melted butter to blend. Stir into dry ingredients until well blended. Chill until cold, at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours.