Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Apple Pie Cookies

This past weekend I was all set to make a pumpkin baked good of some kind.  I was looking over a few of my favorite websites before going to the grocery store, just to see if anything else piqued my interest.  And then I saw these Apple Pie Cookies on Smitten Kitchen.  And THEN I remembered I hadn't made an apple pie yet this fall (for shame), and I had apples sitting out on the counter, just waiting to be consumed.

I should also say that despite all of the baking I do, pie crust does intimidate me.  In college, my best friend and I would make awesome apple pies together and I always did the filling and she always did the crust.  We were a dream team.  Then we had to up and graduate and she ended up an ocean away in a country that doesn't make really pies (sad, but no fear, their other baked goods are amazing).  Anyway, I never really did pie crust before, and the few times I tried it was putzy and I had to re-roll it a few times and urgh, no thanks.

But this past year I've been making a ton of biscuits and the concept is very similar (keep the fat cold, don't overwork, etc), so I had a new confidence.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad...

My confidence was fading as I was mixing in the cold water because it just wasn't coming together like I thought it should.  Isn't pie crust supposed to be more homogeneous than this???  Smoother???  Ack.  I put the plastic-wrapped discs into the fridge to chill with a grumble.

But, it rolled out okay, and the assembly line for these cookies worked out great.  They were adorable.  They baked up just fine.  They made the apartment smell homey and yummy.  And, they tasted heavenly.  The husband and I had intended on bringing some to our respective offices, but quickly changed our minds after the first bite.  Forget them, these cookies were too good to share (and the recipe didn't make quite as many as I had thought it would.)  And fresh out of the oven, they were other-worldly.

Don't be frightened of the length of the directions.  It's really not that bad.  Some assembly is required, but they are worth it.  They came together quickly and your family will love you forever if you make them!

Apple Pie Cookies
(from Smitten Kitchen)
Depending on the size of your biscuit cutters, they make 15-30 cookies.

Promise me that you won’t mess around with soft pie dough, here or anywhere. The single easiest way to master pie crusts is to decide at the outset that you won’t waste your energy on limp, stretchy dough. As soon as your dough softens, transfer whatever you’re doing to the freezer for two minutes to chill it again. Soft dough is hard to work with. It’s stretchy and doesn’t cut clean shapes, it gets sticky and you compensate by over-flouring it and that stickiness is those tiny bits of butter that will be your layers of flakes later disappearing, melting before they hit the oven and sealing into zillions of buttery pockets. It will also annoy you and make you think that you’re bad at working with pie dough but you’re not. You’re just warm-blooded and you need to put the pie dough back to chill for two minutes.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surfaces, dipping fork
2 tablespoons  granulated sugar (doubled from my standard pie dough to make this more cookie-like)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup water, very cold (I pour 1 cup and add ice while I work, then measure 1/2 cup from it when I need it)

3 medium apples, whatever you like to bake with (I used Granny Smith)
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Few gratings fresh nutmeg
A pinch of any other spices you like in your apple pie

To finish
1 large egg
Coarse or granulated sugar for garnish

Additional stuff
A couple baking sheets covered with parchment paper
Rolling pin, pastry brush (for egg wash), fork (for crimping and dipping) and sharp knife (to make slits)
Two round cookie cutters of different sizes. I used 3 inch and 2 inch and Smitten Kitchen used 2 1/2-inch and 1 1/2 to 1 3/4-inch rounds. You’ll want to make sure there’s at least a 3/4-inch different in the sizes, as you’ll need the extra margin to crimp your dough.

Make your pie dough: Whisk together flour, sugar and salt in the bottom of a large, wide-ish bowl. Using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingertips, work the butter into the flour until the biggest pieces of butter are the size of small peas. (You’ll want to chop your butter into small bits first, unless you’re using a very strong pastry blender in which case you can throw the sticks in whole, as I did.)
Use my favorite food processor method.  Put flour, sugar, and salt in food processor and give it a few pulses.  Then put in cold butter pieces and give it a few more pulses.  Dump it out into a large bowl and continue directions as listed.

Gently stir in the ice water with a rubber spatula, mixing it until a craggy mass forms. Get your hands in the bowl and knead it just two or three times to form a ball. Divide dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten a bit, like a disc. Chill in fridge for at least an hour or up to two days.

Meanwhile, get everything else together: Line up six small dishes. In the first one, pour some water. Leave the second one empty; you’ll use it for your apples in a bit. In the third one, mix the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and any other spices you like in your pie, such as a pinch of cloves. In the fourth one, place a little bit of flour to dust your surface and dip your fork for crimping. In the fifth one, whisk an egg with one teaspoon of water until smooth. In the last one, or in whatever container you keep it in, add some coarse or regular sugar for decorating the tops of the pies. I used some raw sugar I had lying about.

On a well-floured counter, roll out your pie dough pretty thin, a little shy of 1/8-inch thick. Lift and rotate your dough as you roll it, to ensure that it rolls out evenly and so you can be sure it’s not sticking in any place.  Use the larger of your two cookie cutters to cut as many rounds as you can from the dough. Transfer them to parchment-lined baking sheets and keep them in the fridge until you need them. Once you’ve finished the first packet, repeat the process with the second packet of dough

Prepare your apples: Peel your apples. Cut thin (1/8-inch thick) slices from one side of whole apple, stopping when you hit the core. Repeat on opposite side. I got about 5-10 usable slices from each side of my small-medium-ish apples. Use the smaller of your two cookie cutters to cut the apples into cute little discs that will fit inside your pie cookies. Place them in your second bowl, covering them with a few drops of lemon juice if you find that they’re browning quickly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

And now, assemble! Grab your first disc of chilled dough and lightly dampen it on one side with the water. This is to help it seal. Take your first disc of apple and toss it in the cinnamon spice sugar. Place it on the damp side of the bottom disk. Place a second disc of dough on top; I found it easiest to seal it by picking the whole thing up (this is when you’ll be glad that your dough is cold and semi-firm; if it’s soft and getting sticky, chill it until it’s easy to pick up) and press the tops and bottoms around the apple with your fingers. Back on the floured counter, cut decorative slits in your “pies”. Dip your fork in the flour and use it to create a decorative crimp on the sealed edges. Brush your cookie with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Replace on baking sheet and chill while you prepare the others.

Bake your apple pie cookies for 25 minutes, or until puffed and bronzed and very pie-like. (If this is your first batch, peer in at them at 20 minutes, to make sure your oven doesn’t run hot.) Transfer to a cooling rack to cool slightly before eating them (a scalded tongue is no fun).

Do ahead: These will keep for a few days at room temperature. You could also make a larger batch of these, doing everything but brushing them with egg and sprinkling them with sugar, and keep them frozen until needed. Bake them directly from the freezer, just adding a couple minutes to the baking time.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Frosting

First post as a Mrs!  It's been absolutely insane with the wedding, the marathon, and work.  This weekend we finally got to take a breath and I was itching to bake.

We had simply amazing cupcakes at our wedding (I insisted on it!)  Everyone got a box of four mini-cupcakes: Vanilla Lavender, Pumpkin Spice Latte, Red Velvet with Cinnamon Frosting, and Chocolate Stout with Espresso Buttercream.  They were all wonderfully tasty (thank you Play Cake Bakers!), and a big hit with the guests.  Now that we're back home, I wanted to try and recreate the vanilla lavender cupcake, because I absolutely love lavender-flavored desserts.

The wedding baker was kind enough to tell me the ratio she used with lavender extract, so I felt confident it would be tasty and not taste like soap, which is always a fear when using lavender.  Lavender extract isn't a common ingredient (most lavender recipes use the edible buds), but I found it at Sur la Table.

I didn't have a standard vanilla cupcake in my back pocket, like some other recipes, but these that I found sounded perfect.  These cupcakes baked up wonderfully and had a nice crumb, were moist, flavorful and still tender.  Exactly what I was hoping for!  I knew vanilla frosting would work well with it, but I didn't want to use the standard butter-powdered sugar-milk frosting.  However, I was too lazy to spend time cooking up a frosting, and I didn't have any fancy ingredients.

After perusing the interwebs, I found a recipe that intrigued me - it used honey as well as mascarpone cheese.  Luckily, I had the exact amount in my fridge, so clearly it was meant to be.

While making the frosting it looked a bit strange as it mixed, sort of lumpy and separated, but adding in the powdered sugar helped and it came together well as a final product.  It is pretty tasty on it's own, but very rich, so not a lot is needed on the cupcakes.  And the flavors of lavender and honey meld beautifully.

It's not exactly like what we had at our wedding, but it is very, very, VERY good and I will be making these again, without a doubt!

Lavender Cupcakes
(Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)
Makes 12 cupcakes

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
½ cup sour cream
1 large egg , room temperature
2 large egg yolks , room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lavender extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin/cupcake tin with paper or foil liners.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add butter, sour cream, egg and egg yolks, and vanilla; beat at medium speed until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and mix by hand until smooth and no flour pockets remain.

Divide batter evenly among cups of prepared tin. Bake until cupcake tops are pale gold and toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 24 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from tin and transfer to wire rack; cool cupcakes to room temperature before frosting.

Honey Frosting
(from M for Mommy)
Makes more than enough for 12 cupcakes - about a cup and a half

1/4 cup butter, softened
4 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened
2 Tbsp honey
Pinch of salt
1 cup powdered sugar plus more for preferred texture

Beat the first 4 ingredients at medium speed with a mixer until creamy.  Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended.  Beat at high speed 2 minutes or until creamy.  Add additional powdered sugar for your preferred texture/stiffness.  The frosting won't be as stiff as some more traditional frostings, but still pipes on fine and stays put on the cupcake and doesn't slide off.

Top off with some purple sanding sugar, edible lavender buds, or whatever you like.