Thursday, February 28, 2013

Homemade Thin Mints

We all have a favorite, and we look forward to each February when we can finally have it - Girl Scout cookies.  We indulge and then must patiently wait until next year when those adorable girls come to us with their sign up sheets.  Well, NO MORE! 

Not that I'm discouraging supporting the Girl Scouts, of course not!  This recipe is for all of the other months in the year, when we crave those cookies, and they are unavailable to us.

The husband loves Thin Mints, so I thought I'd take a crack at those before I try my favorite (Tagalongs).  There are a myriad of recipes to choose from, and after sifting through the options, I chose this one.

Now, the original called for some more all-natural ingredients, which are great, but I stuck to the easily-accessed ingredients.  It calls for powdering some special sugar, but I just used regular granulated sugar.  I did powder it, in my little grinder that I use for flax seeds (so perhaps some extra fiber and omega-3s snuck in...), but I'm sure you could live dangerously and use straight granulated sugar.  I didn't use confectioner's sugar because it contains an anti-caking agent and I didn't know if that would react differently or not.

Some folks preferred making the dough into logs and slicing them, but I liked the idea of using a small biscuit cutter to get perfect, uniform circles compared to a slightly-misshapen cookie.  Also, after the cookies were dipped and the chocolate set, there was the inevitable excess that created a little pool around the cookie.  I thought it unattractive, so I found that a pizza cutter worked extremely well for trimming it off.

These cookies have a great flavor.  They're not quite as sweet as the real deal (but is that really a bad thing?)  Mine also weren't super-crisp, but again, I consider that a point in its favor.  And the husband?  He loves them!

So tuck this recipe away for when you're craving them and give them a whirl!

Homemade Thin Mints
(adapted from Mother Nature Network)
 Makes roughly 2 dozen

1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, room temperature
1/2 cup of granulated sugar, powdered (or not)
1/2 cup of good quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips (I used 60% Ghiradelli chips, and the better chocolate made the final product that much better)
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil

With a mixer, cream the butter. Add the sugar, and continue to cream until light and fluffy. Add the cocoa powder, salt and vanilla and mix until well combined and it is the texture (and flavor) of frosting.  Add the flour and mix until just combined. Gather into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap well and place in the freezer for 15 minutes or the fridge for 30+ minutes.

Put parchment paper on two cookie sheets. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the dough thinly (remember that these are supposed to be thin cookies), but not so thin as to make it hard to transfer, about 1/8 of an inch. Cut out with a small round shape (a small biscuit cutter worked perfectly).  The dough will crack a bit when it's straight out of the freezer, but when it warms slightly it is flexible.  If it becomes too sticky/warm to work with, place in the freezer or fridge for a few minutes to firm it back up.  Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and carefully slide the parchment paper with the cookies onto cooling rack and let cool completely.

Melt chocolate chips with butter/coconut oil in microwave or double boiler.  When melted stir in peppermint extract and mix well.

Put more parchment on the now-cooled cookie sheets.

Carefully drop each cookie into the melted chocolate and spoon chocolate over the top of each cookie. Use two forks to fish it out and gently shake them to remove excess chocolate. Place on parchment paper. Repeat until all of the cookies are covered. Place cookies in freezer for 30 minutes to harden.  Trim off excess chocolate with pizza cutter.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

White Bean & Turkey Chili with Sweet Cornbread

Well, it's still winter.  And for pretty much everyone not in the Pacific Northwest (save those of you on a beach or in a desert), you've recently been reminded about the properties of snow.  After all of the shoveling/snow-blowing/ice-scraping, you need something warm and comforting to fend off thoughts of tauntauns on Hoth.  This recipe is for you.

The husband was kind enough to whip this up while I was off on a long run, so I don't have much to say on the making of it.  His thoughts?  "It barely made any dishes - it's a one-pot wonder."  (This comment likely gives you insight into who does a lot of dishes around here...oops.)  He stuck with the recipe with the exception of expanding on the spices slightly - a bit more chili powder and a splash of sriracha to give it a bit more warmth and depth.

The result?  Awesome.  We immediately declared it wonderful and it has earned a spot in our rotation.  Of course, when you have chili you must have cornbread!  I have a go-to recipe for sweet cornbread that is a favorite of ours.  The only difference is that I used corn flour instead of all-purpose flour, just because I had it.  Also, I cut back on the sugar a bit.  I like things sweet, but it seemed a bit extreme, even for me.

For those cold days, this is the meal for you!

White Bean & Turkey Chili
(from Giada De Laurentis)
Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds ground turkey or chicken
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 1/4 teaspoons chili powder (or to taste)
3 tablespoons flour
2 (15-ounce cans) cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch (about 1 pound) Swiss chard, stems removed, leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Splash of sriracha
Freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the ground turkey, 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, fennel seeds, oregano, and chili powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Stir the flour into the chicken mixture. Add the beans, Swiss chard, corn, and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 55-60 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about half and the chili has thickened. Add the red pepper flakes and sriracha and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Sweet Cornbread
(from Allrecipes)
Makes 12 servings

1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg 
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Spray or lightly grease a 9 inch pan.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg, milk and vegetable oil until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Serve with butter and honey.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Glory Bowl (Vegan)

One day I was lamenting about not having any fast and healthy recipes for weeknight dinners.  We always resort to mac n cheese... anyone else?  My friend of mine offered up this recipe.  I was a little wary and only because I feared it would taste too... hippy-dippy healthy.  I was pleasantly surprised!

There is a bit of prep work, but it's very easy, and once you have everything ready you can throw together a meal in record time.  I was in luck that the Husband was cooking up some tofu for a favorite - Tofu & Veggie Stir Fry.  So I batted my eyelashes and asked that he cook up another package.  Cooking the brown rice was a snap because we have a rice maker.  That only left the dressing.

When I set out all of the ingredients for the dressing, I thought it seemed like an odd collection of things.  Tossed it in the blender and bam, done.  I dipped in a spoon to taste it, like a good chef, and nearly fell over from the strength of flavors.  Did I do something wrong?  I only forgot the water.  Oops.  Needless to say, a little goes a long way with this dressing.  Tread carefully!

It seems very unassuming, but the combination of the ingredients and the dressing come together wonderfully.  It was tasty, healthy, very satisfying, and as I hoped - easy.  It's also very flexible in your preference of veggies, so you can adjust it to your tastes.  In fact, next time I think I'll also add some chopped apple, for a bit of added sweetness.  This has earned a place in my lunch/dinner rotation!

Glory Bowl
(from Whitewater Cooks)
Serves 4

1 cup dry brown rice
Baby spinach
Shredded carrots
1 can julienned beets (or you could shred raw carrots)
Mini sweet peppers (Not in original recipe, but I love them and it tasted great)
1 pkg extra firm tofu
Toasted almonds (or your favorite nut)

1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup olive oil (original recipes calls for 1 1/2 cups, which seems extreme!)
2 Tbsp almond butter or tahini paste (I used tahini, since I had it)

Cook brown rice in your preferred method.
Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in wok over medium-high heat.  Add tofu, and cook until golden brown.  Transfer to a plate (and set on paper towels to drain if you're concerned about excess oil).

Put all dressing ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.  Store in airtight container in the fridge.

To serve, place 1/2 cup cooked brown rice in bowl.  Top with 1/4 cooked tofu (warmed), and layer with veggies and toasted almonds.  Pour dressing on top just before serving.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Healthier Banana-Blueberry Muffins

You know those sad bananas?  Abandoned on the counter, and each day they grow a little more brown and unappealing?  I had a few, and was mulling over what to do with them.  The obvious option, of course, is banana bread.  Which I love.  But, I was looking for something a little healthier, perhaps.  Enter the queen of homemaking - Martha Stewart.

The recipe didn't look too healthy - like you were eating granola or something, but definitely healthier.  Whole wheat flour, flax seeds (instead of wheat germ), bananas and blueberries.  All good things.  Besides swapping flax seeds for wheat germ, I also added a bit of cinnamon.  Never a bad idea!

I whipped these up this morning, and the smell of them baking was simply heavenly!  They needed to cool some, of course, mocking the husband with their tastiness.  And we were not disappointed.

They were AMAZING.  We ate... too many.  And seriously considered spending our Saturday eating the whole pan.  Go get the ingredients right now - you must bake them as soon as possible!!!!

UPDATE: This recipe also makes adorable mini muffins.  Just grease the mini muffin tins and fill.  (I did have to make a few full-size muffins as I ran out of little tins).  Then bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool in tins for about 10 minutes, and then transfer mini muffins to a cooling rack.

Healthier Banana-Blueberry Muffins
(adapted from Martha Stewart)
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup whole-wheat flour (spooned and leveled)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup ground flax seeds (or wheat germ)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas (about 1 pound)
1/3 cup milk (I used fat-free)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together flours, wheat germ, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In another bowl, mash bananas with a fork (you should have 3/4 cup); stir in milk and vanilla.

With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and banana mixture to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Fold in frozen blueberries.

Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 28 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Let cool in pan 10 minutes; transfer muffins to a rack to cool 10 minutes more.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

I had intended on making these for Valentine's Day.  But there are so many sweets around the office that day, I thought I'd wait.  It certainly wasn't because I got lazy or anything.  Um....yeah.

Of course I decided to make these late at night because that's how I function.  They came together quickly, and it's always fun to assemble treats like this!

The recipe mentions using a small cookie scoop so the cakes are the same size and shape.  I don't own such a contraption, so I figured I'd pipe them to attempt to achieve the same effect.  (In our apartment, when in doubt, pipe it!)

I wasn't quite prepared for how many cakes the recipe makes, so I ended up using every sheet-pan-like-thing I had, including a pizza pan, and every flat space available (which isn't much, by the way).

The results were tasty, and my coworkers are enjoyed them immensely.  I may have spotted one of the finance guys coming back for thirds.  :-)

This weekend we were cat-sitting for our neighbors, so I left a little baggy of whoopie pies for our neighbors, to welcome them home.  I later found out the cats had completely shredded the bag to get at the whoopie pies.  So, apparently, kitties like them too...

I think that this recipe is a great base, and a lot of fun could be had with some slight tweaks.  I'd love to play around with the filling a bit more as it's a bit sweet for me (did I really just say that?)  Perhaps a little cinnamon in the filling?  Or some orange zest to brighten them up a bit?  If you find a fun combination, let me know!

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
(from Brown Eyed Baker)
Makes 24 - 30 whoopie pies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons red food coloring
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup of milk with 1 Tbsp lemon juice)

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3½ cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, shortening and both sugars on low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy and smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and the red food coloring and beat until just blended.

Add half of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk to the batter and beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining flour mixture and remaining ½ cup buttermilk and beat until completely combined.

Using a spoon or pipe from a Ziploc bag, drop a tablespoon of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, or until the cakes spring back when pressed gently. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cakes cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, prepare the filling.  In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed. Add the sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add the vanilla and increase the speed to medium-high; beat until creamy and smooth, about 4 minutes.

To assemble:  Pipe filling on flat side of a cake and top with another cake, flat side down.  Repeat with the rest of the cakes and filling.

Storing: Assembled whoopie pies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. If you need to stack layers, place a piece of wax paper between layers.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Quick Chicken and Dumpling Soup

It's that time of year when sneezing and coughing abound and facial tissue sales spike.  The husband and I had been lucky that we'd avoided any creeping crud (it's been spreading around work like wildfire).  But alas, I finally fell victim this week.  And now that I'm on the upswing, the husband is now getting sniffly.  This called for some chicken soup, and asap.

The best spot to look for this sort of recipe is one of my favorite websites/magazines - Cook's Country.  Their recipes can be a bit putzy sometimes, but because they test them to the extreme, you know they will always turn out fantastic.

Of course, to get the best flavor I should make the stock from scratch and spend all afternoon on the soup.  That doesn't appeal to me when I'm 100% healthy, let alone when I'm feeling under the weather.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had a quick chicken and dumpling soup, and it was exactly what I was looking for.

After mixing up the dumpling dough, the husband commented how messy it was going to be to make the dumplings.  Then I had a eureka moment - put the dough in a Ziploc bag, cut the corner off, and squeeze out little dumplings.  I used kitchen shears to cut the dough as it came out, and it worked perfectly.  Far less messy than the alternative and it made for equally-sized dumplings.  One word of warning - make sure to keep the kitchen shears just shy of the edge of the bag to avoid cutting plastic into the soup.  Of course, if you used a real pastry bag with a tip, this wouldn't be a problem at all.

The soup was super simple to make and it turned out wonderfully.  Here's hoping that this chicken soup speeds our recovery!

Quick Chicken and Dumpling Soup
(from Cook's Country)
Makes ~6 servings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Salt & pepper
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped fine
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1-2 celery ribs, sliced thin
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 rotisserie chicken, skin discarded, meat shredded into bite-sized pieces (about 3 cups)

Whisk flour, water, eggs, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in bowl, set aside.

Melt butter in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook onion, carrots, and celery until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Stir in broth and bay leaves and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, 10-15 minutes.

Remove lid of pot.  Stir in chicken and season with salt and pepper; return to simmer.  Scoop dumpling dough into Ziploc bag and trim off corner (roughly 1/4 inch).  Working quickly, squeeze dough out and cut with kitchen shears to create dumplings and drop into soup.

Simmer, until dumplings are set, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove bay leaves.  Season with salt and pepper.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chocolate Swirl Buns

What to bake, what to bake... A friend suggested something with yeast.  Hm.  If you hadn't already guessed, I'm not much of a bread baker.  The closest I get is quick breads and biscuits, which isn't close at all.  Yeast is... temperamental and time-consuming.  Not my idea of a good time.  Although I do love the results of it, I never got into actually baking with it myself.  Until now!

I remembered this recipe from Smitten Kitchen and I was intrigued.  Why not?  The worst that could happen would be an unleavened mess.  Not exactly an apocalyptic catastrophe.

After proofing the yeast and mixing the dough with my never-used-dough-hook, it was time for it to rise.  I was hopeful until I noticed that after 30 minutes, it hadn't really risen at all.  Drat. 

The husband actually has a bit of experience with bread baking and suggested moving the covered bowl to the top of the radiator for a little warmth.  And he told me that unlike simple flour and water dough, dough with butter and eggs doesn't have the same dramatic rise and they rise slower.  Whew.  And after an hour, it had doubled in size - success!

The rest came together just fine.  The results are not only attractive, they're tasty!  I look forward to sharing them with my coworkers to start the week off right!

Chocolate Swirl Buns
(from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes about a dozen

1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
1/4 cup (50 grams) plus a pinch of granulated sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
1 large egg, brought to room temperature
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for bowl and muffin tins

3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 pound (225 grams) semisweet chocolate
Pinch of salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Prepare dough: Warm milk and a pinch of sugar to between 110 to 116°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you’re looking for it to be warm but not hot to the touch; best to err on the cool side. Sprinkle yeast over milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/4 cup sugar, then slowly whisk in yeast mixture.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Run mixer on low and add egg mixture, mixing until combined. Add butter and mix until incorporated. Switch mixer to dough hook and let it knead the dough for 10 minutes on low speed. At 10 minutes, it should be sticky and stringy and probably worrisome, but will firm up a bit after it rises. Grease a large bowl and place dough in it. Cover loosely with a lint-free towel or plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled.

Meanwhile, prepare filling: If your chocolate is in large bars, roughly chop it. Then, you can let a food processor do the rest of the work, pulsing the chopped chocolate with the salt, sugar, and cinnamon (if using) until the chocolate is very finely chopped with some parts almost powdery. Add butter and pulse machine until it’s distributed throughout the chocolate. (If you don’t have a food processor, just chop the chocolate until it’s very finely chopped, then stir in the sugar, salt, cinnamon and butter until it makes a pasty/chunky/delicious mess.) Set mixture aside.

Generously grease a standard 12-muffin tin; set aside.

Form buns: Once dough is doubled, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and gently deflate it with floured hands. Let it rest for another 5 minutes. Once rested, roll dough into a large, large rectangle. The short sides should be a scant 11 to 12 inches. The other side can be as long as you can roll it. The longer you can make it, the more dramatic and swirled your buns will be.

Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough’s surface. It’ll be clumpy and uneven and probably look like there’s too much chocolate for the volume of dough; just do your best. Tightly roll the dough back over the filling from one short end to the other, forming a 12 to 13-inch log. With a sharp serrated knife, gently saw 1-inch segments off the log and place each in a prepared muffin cup.  When cutting, don't press down, but let the weight of the knife do the work (it keeps the buns from getting squished).  Loosely cover buns with plastic wrap or a lint-free towel and let them rise for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).

Bake buns for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and brown. If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take the buns out when it reads 185 to 190 degrees in the middle of each bun.

Set buns on cooling rack. Theoretically, you should cool them completely before unmolding them (with the aid of a knife or thin spatula to make sure nothing has stuck).  Just wait as long as you can before burning your tongue on the chocolate-y goodness.

Do ahead: These buns can be formed, placed in the muffin cups and refrigerated (loosely covered with plastic, which you might want to oil to keep it from sticking) the night before, to bake in the morning. You can bake them directly from the fridge. They can be baked and frozen until needed, up to 1 month.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

One-Bowl Brownies

"What are you making?"


"Brownies! I see the pan, and nothing goes in there but brownies."

The husband is very observant when it comes to treats in the kitchen.  :-)

 You'll note that I don't yet have a brownie recipe in the blog, and for good reason.  Not because I don't like brownies, oh no, quite the contrary.  But, why bother making them from scratch when Ghiradelli makes a perfectly tasty brownie mix?  If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

There was one attempt with a Cook's Illustrated recipe that promised brownies just like the Ghiradelli ones, but we were sorely disappointed.  I'm not sure why they didn't work out, but perhaps it was a user error fluke.

But I trust Smitten Kitchen, and she has plenty of options.  This one piqued my interest because of its simplicity.  It doesn't sound very glamorous, but I wasn't looking for super-extra-eighteen-chocolate-outrageous brownies.  I wanted comfort brownies, and these seemed to fit the bill.

I had all the ingredients, so fate was with me.  You'll notice the lack of prep photos, but that's because they were so fast and easy!  And they baked in 2/3 the time of normal brownie recipes.  This was getting better and better.

And the texture was perfect - fudgy with a shiny, crispy top.  I added some chocolate chips because I like the extra gooey-ness, and they were great.

Fast. Easy. Tasty.  What more could you want?

One-Bowl Brownies
(from Smitten Kitchen)
 Makes 1 8×8 pan of brownies

3 ounces (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon table salt (about 2 grams)
2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment, extending it up two sides, or foil. Butter the parchment or foil or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour, and then chocolate chips with a spoon or flexible spatula and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Hefeweizen Cupcakes

It's been my tradition (does two years constitute a tradition?) to bake up alcohol-laced cupcakes for our friend's Super Bowl party.  Last year I made Irish Car Bomb cupcakes, which were a huge hit.  Since I'd already used a dark beer for a cupcake, I wanted to give a lighter beer a shot.

I've seen this Hefeweizen cupcake recipe on the The Cupcake Project blog for awhile, and thought this would be the perfect recipe to try.

As I'm not much of a beer person (wine is more of my thing), I left the beer choice up to the husband, and he chose Widmer Brothers, a regional beer.  Typically, a wheat beer is paired with lemon, so I ran with that.

The cake itself is different than any I've made before, but I really like the texture.  It's very light, and sponge-like, and not crumbly like some cake.  And the taste was spot on!  Again, light, with a slight lemon flavor and the beer lent a very subtle yeasty flavor.

This cake is light enough that it would also be perfect for any summer barbeques, so keep the recipe handy for July!

 The blogger on The Cupcake Project has made clear that she doesn't like buttercreams, so she paired it with a glaze.  I, however, love buttercream, so I tweaked a recipe I found on Epicurious.

For flavoring, I used a bit of fresh lemon juice and touch of vanilla.  The frosting was smooth, creamy, with a subtle flavor and it wasn't too sweet.  I'd been looking for a go-to buttercream, and this one is it!  It's versatile, easy, and tasty.

You're wondering, of course, if the cupcakes were well-received at the party.  I can happily report that we came home with an empty cupcake carrier, so I'd say they were a rousing success!

Hefeweizen Cupcakes
(from The Cupcake Project/Beantown Baker)
Makes 18 cupcakes

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
zest of one large lemon
6 Tbsp milk
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Hefeweizen or other wheat beer

In a large mixing bowl, whip egg whites until soft peaks form.  Gradually mix in the sugar.  Mix in baking powder, baking soda, vegetable oil, zest, and milk.  Mix in half of the flour, combine.  Then pour in beer and combine.  Add in remaining flour.

Prepare cupcake pans with liners and fill 3/4 full.  (They don't raise very much)  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until cupcakes bounce back when lightly touched.

Remove from pan and let cool on cooling racks.  Frost only when they're room temperature.

Lemon Buttercream
(from Epicurious)
Makes ~  2.5 cups

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, like Crisco
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp meringue powder
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (more if you desire, to desired flavor and texture - for other flavors, use water, milk, liqueur, etc)
Additional decoration - I used lemon zest

Cream shortening and butter.  Add vanilla extract (or other flavoring if you desire) and salt.  Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time.  Add meringue powder.  (The mixture will appear dry.)

Add liquid of choice and beat until light and fluffy (approximately 5 to 8 minutes).  Keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap.
Storage: Store the icing in an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Nutella-Stuffed, Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

Warning:  This cookie may induce fits of swooning, and exclamations of extreme joy.

Are you in the doghouse with anyone?  Do you want to win over coworkers?  Or solidify your awesomeness with an in-law?  Have I got the cookie for you.  I wish I could say that I came up with this idea, and alas, I did not.  But, who cares, these cookies are amazing.

I had not browned butter before, but it does add a complexity to the flavor that I didn't expect.  I think I'll be looking for more recipes with this component in the future...

I brought these cookies to work the other day, and everyone's reactions were great.  Lots of oohing and ahhing.  Even our Executive Director came over and declared it to be the best cookie he's ever had.  Win!  A buttery, chocolatey cookie, with a Nutella surprise filling, and topped with a bit of sea salt?  Is it a wonder that everyone loved it?  Nope.

I will say that after making these cookies twice, I have a few tweaks and recommendations on the assembly of the cookie that differ slightly from the original recipe.  First, the amount of butter in these is...heart-stopping.  I'm not one to shy away, but I think it could be decreased a bit.  I cut out a few tablespoons, and there might be room for a bit more reduction without compromising the flavor and texture.

Second, there were too many chocolate chips (I can't believe I just said that).  But they made the dough near impossible to work with.  So I reduced the amount.  Also, I found it frustrating to try and form the cookies around the Nutella with the chocolate chips breaking up the dough, so switched it up by setting aside the chips and not incorporating them into the dough.  After forming the plain dough around the Nutella gob, I then pressed in a handful of chocolate chips on top of the cookie.  It makes for an easier assembly, a more attractive cookie, and the gooey chocolate chips on top are great for catching the coarse sea salt.

Third, I recommend scooping out two dozen teaspoon gobs of Nutella onto a pan with parchment paper and placing the pan in the freezer for a bit.  It's not a necessity, but it might save you from the messy, sticky, gooey trouble of using room temperature Nutella.  You still will get Nutella all over your fingers, and that leaves you with the choice of being proper and wiping them on a paper towel or throwing caution to the wind and licking it off your fingers.  Your choice!

I will say though, that you really should make these cookies.  They. Are. Amazing.

Nutella-Stuffed, Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt
(from Ambitious Kitchen)
Makes roughly 2 dozen cookies

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
14 Tbsp unsalted butter (was originally 2 full sticks, but I believe it could be trimmed down a bit more even)
1 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 jar of Nutella, chilled in refrigerator
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. The butter will begin to foam. Make sure you whisk consistently during this process. After a couple of minutes, the butter will begin to brown on the bottom of the saucepan; continue to whisk and remove from heat as soon as the butter begins to brown and give off a nutty aroma. Immediately transfer the butter to a bowl to prevent burning. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

While the butter is cooling, prepare a pan with parchment paper and place 24 tsp sized gobs of Nutella on it.  Put in the fridge or freezer to chill to make it easier to work with.

With an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, vanilla, and yogurt until combined. Add the dry ingredients slowly and beat on low-speed just until combined.  Set aside chocolate chips in a bowl for later use.

Chill your dough for 1.5 - 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Once dough is chilled measure about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball. Flatten the dough ball very thinly into the palm of your hand. Place 1 teaspoon of chilled Nutella in the middle and fold dough around it; gently roll into a ball — it doesn’t have to be perfectly rolled! Make sure that the Nutella is not seeping out of the dough. Add more dough if necessary. Place dough balls on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart and flatten with your hand slightly.  Press desired amount of chocolate chips into top/sides of cookie dough.  Place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake the cookies 9-11 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown. They will look a bit underdone in the middle, but will continue to cook once out of the oven.  Once out of the oven, immediately sprinkle with a little sea salt (it will stick best in the melted chocolate chips).  Cool the cookies on the sheets at least 2 minutes.  Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets after a few minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.