Monday, November 28, 2011

Chocolate for Monday

While I have been reveling in fall flavors (apples, pumpkin, lots of spices), not everyone around here is quite as happy about it.  In fact, as I was assessing dessert options one night a few weeks ago (ginger crackles or caramel candy corn), Gillian looked at me and said, "Mommy, can't you just make us something chocolate?!"  Something chocolate often means brownies, but I was more in the mood for cookie baking.  So I hit the books to see what I could find.  Actually, I hit the magazines, too.  While I was waiting for all the new holiday baking magazines to arrive on the shelves, I pulled out some of my old ones for inspiration.  That's where I found these.

"These" are Triple Chocolate Cookies from the folks at America's Test Kitchen.  I found the recipe in my 2009 Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking issue.  Definitely no shortage of chocolate in these!  The three chocolates referred to in the title are unsweetened chocolate and bittersweet chocolate chips, which are melted (along with the butter) and added to the batter, and semisweet chocolate chips that are stirred in at the end.  The mixing method reminds me more of making brownies than most cookie recipes.  First, the eggs and sugar are beaten together for several minutes.  Vanilla and coffee (I used espresso powder) are added for flavoring, then the melted chocolate/butter mixture is mixed in.  Finally, flour, salt and a bit of baking powder are folded in.  Since the batter is very soft, you let it sit at room temperature for half an hour or so to firm up.  I made my cookies a bit smaller than the recipe called for and baked them for about 10 minutes.

The verdict?  Well, Gillian was definitely thrilled with these cookies. =)  Brianna seemed pretty happy, too.  In fact, I think they were a hit with everyone here, so I'm sure I'll be making them again.  While they were fine with just the chocolates, I bet they'd be pretty tasty with some toasted pecans or dried cranberries or cherries mixed in.

While these aren't a traditional holiday cookie, if you're craving chocolate this time of year (or just need it to treat a case of the Mondays), I recommend trying these out.  You can find the recipe online at either Cook's Country or America's Test Kitchen.  For other great recipes from magazines, check out Magazine Mondays over at Cream Puffs in Venice!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I like big bundts, again

Happy National Bundt Day!  I'm excited once again to be celebrating the day with Mary the Food Librarian.  This is her third year of I Like Big Bundts, where she's baked 30 Bundts in 30 days, leading up to National Bundt Day on November 15th.  I missed the first year, but last year I joined in with an Espresso Gingerbread Bundt.  I've been on the lookout for a good recipe for this year, and finally settled on one.

I went shopping on my day off last week, heading down to the outlet malls in San Marcos.  We have outlets closer to home, but not the specific stores that I was looking for--Crate and Barrel and Williams-Sonoma.  WS in particular ended up being quite dangerous.  I've been wanting a cake stand for a while, and finally bought myself one.  It seemed perfect for showing off my bundt.  You can also see my makeshift cake dome, which is the bowl from my salad spinner.  It's the perfect size! =)  The cake recipe that I used comes from one of the other acquisitions from my shopping trip--a copy of Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.  At 50% off, I just couldn't pass it up.  There are several yummy looking bundts, so it was just a matter of picking one.

I decided to make the Ruby Cake, so called because it has a raspberry filling hidden inside, along with some bittersweet chocolate.  I love those flavors together, so this was definitely my first choice to make.  The batter itself is a rich one, loaded with butter and sour cream, though lighter on the eggs (only 3) than some I've made.  The batter is made by the creaming method, and came together with minimal effort in my stand mixer.  The recipe calls for using two piping bags to put the batter and filling in the pan, but I didn't follow the instructions for that.  I just spooned half the batter into the pan, made a trough for the filling, added the jam and chocolate very carefully so they weren't near the edges of the pan, and topped them with the remaining batter.  It worked fine.  I really wanted to use my Heritage Bundt pan for this cake.  The recipe calls for a 10-12 cup pan, so I thought I'd be okay.  I baked my cake for just under an hour.

The verdict?  Well, I wish I'd left the cake in the oven a bit longer. Or used a different pan. Or just put less batter in the pan I used.  The cake rose about an inch about the top of the pan, but didn't overflow at all.  It seemed to test done, but the middle (near the raspberry part) was definitely a little under-done.  While it might not have been exactly to my taste, the texture didn't stop my coworkers from devouring it. =)  My friend Nancy pointed out that lots of people like under-done cake.  Better that than too dry, I guess.  And as I'm writing this on Monday night, I'm now laughing, since Brianna's opinion of the cake is that it could be a little more moist. =)  She also thinks that it needs more chocolate.  G pronounced it pretty good.  My only critique of the flavor is that it needs a bit more salt to balance out the sweetness.  (I'll probably use a full teaspoon next time, instead of half.)

I did like the cake enough that I'm sure there will be another attempt at it.  If you'd like to try it for yourself, you can find the recipe here.  You can also find it in Sarabeth's book, of course.   Don't forget to head over to Mary's blog for her post today, which includes the list of all the bundts she's baked this year.  She'll also have a round-up with lots of fabulous bundts from other bakers later this month.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What's in a name?

When I was pregnant with both of my children, we didn't find out the gender until they were born.  So we were prepared with names for both possibilities.  It drove some of my friends crazy that we wouldn't tell the names ahead of time, either.  But I really didn't want to hear anyone's opinions in advance.  The names we chose for both girls followed the same sort of pattern as the names that my sisters and I all have.  Our middle names are all family names, but the first names are just names that my parents liked, as far as I know.  That's the case for Brianna and Gillian--I picked the names because I liked them, and J liked them too.  Their middle names are both family names from J's side--Gillian's middle name of Rose comes from J's grandmother, and B's middle name comes from his great-grandmother.  Her name was Maddalena (she was Italian), but we went with a more American version, Madeline.  But we pronounce it the same as Madeleine, with a short i sound, not a long one.  

So B was understandably intrigued by the name for these shell-shaped cookies.  Or are they cakes?  Whatever you call them, they're yummy.  And they just happen to be my pick for Tuesdays with Dorie this week.  I wasn't really expecting to get another chance to host, but I'm glad I got to pick these Mini Madeleines.  I bought my madeleine pans (both big and small) for the first madeleine recipe that we made back in May 2008.  It was actually just a couple weeks before my first pick.  The sad thing is that I've been so busy baking other things that I haven't used the pans much since then.  I need to change that...

As usual, I didn't quite manage to make this recipe exactly as Dorie wrote it.  My changes were small, though.  I increased the salt to 1/4 teaspoon, since I think it helps bring out the other flavors.  I went without one of those flavors, though, omitting the lemon zest.  I'm sure they're great with it, but I wanted to focus on the brown sugar flavor.  To that end, I also made a change with one of the sweeteners, using Lyle's Golden Syrup in place of the honey.  

For the actual baking, I also deviated from the recipe a bit, but with good reason.  I remembered that over the summer, I'd read a post about madeleines on Dorie's blog.  She experimented with putting her madeleine pan on a preheated baking sheet to get a nice bump on the cookies.  I decided to try putting mine on my baking stone (which lives on the bottom rack in my oven) to get a similar effect.  It worked great!  A couple of my baking buddies mentioned that their madeleines got dark really fast, so I made sure to watch mine carefully, and ended up pulling them out at 7 1/2 minutes.  

The verdict?  Well, I'm lucky these lasted long enough for pictures. =)  Brianna and Gillian immediately asked me when I was going to make more.  (J liked them, too.)  Since I only baked one pan, I still have batter in the fridge so I can do that tomorrow.  I may try baking some regular size madeleines with the remaining batter.  I think using my baking stone worked really well for baking these, so I'll definitely use that technique again.

My apologies to Valerie for not even thinking of attempting her pick--Depths of Fall Butternut Squash Pie--this week.  I have enough trouble getting one recipe done right now, let alone two, and didn't want to drop the ball on my hosting duties this week.  To see what everyone thought of the pie, check out the Links for that recipe.  And head over to Valerie's blog for the recipe if you'd like to try the pie.

If you'd like to make the madeleines, I have the recipe below.  You can see how everyone else fared with them in the Links here.  

Mini Madeleines 

2/3 cup (90 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt (I used 1/4 teaspoon)
2 large eggs, room temperature
6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (13 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of 1/2 lemon (I omitted)
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon honey (I substituted golden syrup)

confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugars until smooth.  Whisk in the dry ingredients, followed by the vanilla and lemon zest.  Gently whisk in the melted butter, and finally, the honey.  You'll have a thick, smooth, shiny batter.  Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.  (For convenience, you can spoon the batter into the madeleine molds, cover and chill, then bake the cookies directly from the fridge; see below for instructions on prepping the pans.)

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Generously butter up to three mini madeleine pans, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess.  (I coated my pan with baking spray, e.g Pam for Baking.)  Or, if you have nonstick pans, just spray the interiors with vegetable cooking spray.  If you've got silicone pans, they can be used just as they are.  Put the pan(s) on a baking sheet.

Fill each little madeleine mold with about a teaspoon of batter; the molds should be about three-quarters full.  Don't worry about leveling the batter--it will do it by itself in the oven.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown around the edges.  Remove the sheet from the oven and give the madeleine pan(s) a hearty rap against the counter.  Gently pry out any cakes that don't want to leave their nests with your fingers or a butter knife.  You can serve the madeleines immediately or put them on a rack to cool.  

Repeat with any remaining batter, making certain to cool and rebutter and flour or respray the pan(s).  

Just before serving, dust the madeleines with confectioner's sugar.  Makes about 36 cookies.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's virtually Thanksgiving!

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving.  Sure, it's the ultimate food holiday.  But it's also kind of a pain.  So many dishes to make, and trying to coordinate things so that you can actually manage to cook it all in one kitchen and have it done at the same time.  Then there's the fact that turkey isn't my favorite.  I'd be happy just having all the other dishes--mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, vegetables, cranberry sauce...  Yum.  Then there's bread.  Do you really need bread with everything else that's going on?  It does come in handy for mopping up the extra gravy.  And I do like to bake bread and rolls...

That's why I'm bring you these rolls, even though we have some time before Thanksgiving.  My friend Phyl, who talked us all into making pumpkin recipes last month, came up with the idea of having a Thanksgiving round-up this month.  That way we can all try out some recipes well before the holiday gets here, and also get new ideas from each other.  As the host, he's got the turkey taken care of, and a bunch of us are bringing the rest of the dishes.  Now if only we lived close enough together that Phyl could share his actual Thanksgiving turkey with us, so I wouldn't have to make one. =)

These rolls are pretty straightforward to make, especially if you're comfortable working with yeast doughs.  First, you put the milk, sweetener (I used golden syrup since I prefer it over honey), butter and shortening in a large liquid measuring cup.  You microwave the mixture on high for about 90 seconds, until the milk is warm and the fats are beginning to melt.  They'll melt the rest of the way as you stir the mixture to combine everything.  Then you put most of the flour (4 1/2 cups, or about 630 grams), yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir them to combine.  You add the liquid to the flour and stir to combine, then mix in the egg.  I usually use my dough whisk to get everything roughly combined, then use my mixer with the dough hook to knead the dough.  You add half a cup (70 grams) of additional flour to the mixer as the dough is kneaded, then add up to half a cup more if necessary to get a dough that clears the sides of the bowl and is tacky but not really sticky.  Once the dough is the right consistency (which takes 5-6 minutes), you hand-knead it for a minute or so to form a smooth ball.  The dough is soft, but really nice to work with.  

The dough goes into a greased bowl (covered with plastic wrap) or rising bucket (with lid) to proof for about an hour, or until it's doubled in size.  Then it's formed into 15 rolls.  I did the math, and found that my dough balls needed to be about 90 grams (around 3 ounces) to get 15 equal pieces of dough.  The balls are formed into tight rounds and placed in a greased 13" by 9" pan.  (I used a Pyrex pan.)  The pan is covered with plastic wrap and the shaped rolls are allowed to rise for another 45-60 minutes. Then they're baked at 375ºF for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature is about 190ºF.  The original recipe calls for an egg wash on the dough before baking, but I skipped that.  I did brush the rolls with melted butter when they came out of the oven.

The verdict?  Oh, these definitely deserve a place on the Thanksgiving table!  The texture is soft and rich, and the fluffy crumb makes a nice contrast with the browned exterior.  They're delicious served warm from the oven, with some butter.  You can also make the rolls ahead, let them cool, then wrap them up and store briefly at room temperature or longer in the freezer.  The rolls can then be wrapped in foil and reheated in the oven before serving.  

If you'd like to try these rolls for yourself, there are several places you can find the original recipe.  For subscribers to the Cook's Country website, it's here.  For those with back issues of the magazine, it was published in Dec/Jan 2007.  You can also find this roll recipe in the current newsstand special issue America's Test Kitchen All-Time Best Holiday Recipes.  

Ingredients for Fluffy (Make-Ahead) Dinner Rolls
(adapted from Cook's Country)

350 grams (1 1/2 cups) whole milk
105 grams (1/3 cup) golden syrup or honey
70 grams (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter
50 grams (1/4 cup) shortening (I use Spectrum Organic)
700 - 770 grams (5 - 5 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
9 grams (1 tablespoon) instant yeast
13 grams (2 teaspoons) table salt
1 large egg

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nuts about scones

Well, I made it.  The past week and a half at work have been draining; I've pretty much felt like I might as well live there with the number of hours I've worked.  But the worst is over--the rest of the week is pretty normal, and then I'm off this weekend.  I only had one day off this past weekend, and didn't manage to fit in much baking.  I ended up making these scones Monday morning so I could take some of them to work with me.  (I'm not the only one who's been working hard, so I thought some breakfast would be appreciated.)  I had enough energy Sunday night to do most of the mise en place, which really helps when I want to pull off some early morning baking.  

I'm tired enough that I just realized that I haven't yet mentioned that I was making the scones because they're one of this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipes.  Yes, plural--we're almost done with the book, and are doubling up on recipes so we'll be finished by the end of the year.  I've really enjoyed the scones recipes in Baking, and was looking forward to trying this one, Honey Nut Scones.  Well, except for the fact that I'm not that fond of honey.  But then I had an idea--I could substitute maple syrup (grade B) for the honey.  I'm sure that walnuts would have been great with maple, but I had pecans in my freezer (thanks, Margaret!), so that's what I used.  The only other change I made was due to laziness and being a bit short on time--I used my 1/4 cup scoop to make drop scones, rather than patting the dough out and cutting it into triangles.  To bring out more maple flavor, I also drizzled my baked scones with a maple glaze (powdered sugar, maple syrup, a bit of milk and a pinch of salt).  

The verdict?  I love scones, and these were no exception.  They aren't very sweet, so I liked the addition of glaze.  The girls won't eat them because they don't like the pecans, but the ones I took to work disappeared pretty quickly.  I'll definitely make these again, even if it's just for me.

Jeannette has the scone recipe on her blog, and you can find everyone else's Links here.  I didn't get to the Far Breton, but be sure to check out those Links, too, and head over to Nicole's blog for that recipe. And be sure to come back here next week, when I get to be a host!

I can't resist leaving you with a picture of my trick-or-treaters from last night: