Friday, February 26, 2010

Chocolate Decadence Cookies


When news of an incoming snow storm makes its way around town, chaos ensues.  Instantaneously traffic turns to gridlock, the metro is jammed full of riders you never knew existed, and everyone, literally everyone, rushes to the grocery store before the day is done.  I decided to skip the evening crowd and try my luck with the grocery store the next morning before work.  I wasn't so lucky, but I stuck with my idea anyway.


I was lucky, however, when I ended up in line in the magazine aisle and found myself staring at this one particular cover featuring these cute little heart shape cut-out cookies.  I picked up the magazine and flipped to the food section and found a recipe for Chocolate Decadence Cookies.  The recipe looked failry simple and didn't call for any exotic ingredients which would require leaving my place in the never-ending line in order to go back to the baking aisle.  I had a friend's birthday coming up that I would be baking for, so I decided to purchase the magazine and give these cookies a try.  Although I previously wrote about my non-obsession with chocolate, I absolutely enjoyed my fair share of these chocolate cookies and loved everyone one of them.


Chocolate Decadence Cookies
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens magazine

Ingredients

1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2.5 cups walnuts or pecan halves, roughly chopped and toasted
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel (I omitted this)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave until completely melted (about 2 minutes).  In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla.  Place over a small saucepan with 1/4 cup simmering water (creating a double boiler).  Gently whisk for two minutes until warm.  Pour the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture and stir until combined.  Then stir in the nuts and 6 oz. chopped chocolate.  Fold in the candied orange peel now (if you choose to use this ingredient).

Spoon large tablespoons of the batter onto the prepare baking sheet.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookie surface appears dry, set, and slightly lighter in color.  Carefully slide parchment paper with cookies onto wire racks to cool completely.  I mention "carefully" because I had a slight accident and lost a few cookies from my first baking sheet.

Chocolate Chip Challah


I encountered my first baking challenge this past Rosh Hashanah.   I had already decided to make an apple cake and apple pie for my cousin’s Rosh Hashanah dinner when they emailed and said in the event I was feeling adventurous here was an amazing chocolate chip challah recipe from a family friend of theirs.  The light bulb went off…I certainly couldn’t pass this up. 


I had never made any type of bread from scratch before, let alone challah.  The thought of using yeast, sitting around while letting the dough rise, and then attempting to braid several strands of soft dough didn’t sound like much fun.  I had to look up what proofing yeast meant and I also searched for a video on how to braid the challah


I was patient and carefully followed the recipe.  I watched the braiding video over and over and over again and after a few hours of work I smelled the sweetness of chocolate coming from my kitchen and took my first challah out of the oven.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I succeeded at making my first challah and it didn’t look like a novice loaf- it really could have sat on the shelf at Trader Joes.



Chocolate Chip Challah

2 packages of dry yeast (not rapid rise)
1 3/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs. salt
1/4 cup melted butter
7 cups flour
4 large eggs beaten
1 bag 12 oz. chocolate chips
1 egg (for egg wash)

*Makes two large loaves.  You can also cut the recipe in half and make one large loaf or two small loaves.

Dissolve sugar in warm water.  Sprinkle yeast on top and proof.   When frothy add salt and margarine.  Then beat in 3 cups of flour, eggs, and chocolate chips.   Add in the remaining flour up to 4 cups and knead with hands until smooth and elastic.  Place in a greased bowl.  Cover with a moist cloth.  Let rise until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down.  Divide into two halves and then divide each half in six.  Braid each half. Place on separate cookie sheets.  Brush with slightly beaten egg.  Cover and let rise about 30 minutes more.  Brush again with the egg wash for extra browness.  Bake in 350 degree F oven until brown, about 35-40 minutes.




Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Candy Cane Biscotti


 When I was a kid I remember going to my grandmother’s house and the kitchen without fail was always stocked with a big jar of chocolate dipped biscotti.  I was hooked since the first bite. 

The first snow storm of the season back in December left us with our first of many snow days.  If you asked me now whether or not I am sick of snow days I would probably say yes, but there is definitely something to be said about wearing your pj’s while working from home—and technically working from bed.  Back to the first snow day…I decided to take advantage and invited a few friends over for some candy cane biscotti and board games.


This was my first attempt at biscotti and although it wasn’t the traditional hazelnut, almond, or chocolate kind, it was very surprising and remarkably delicious.  Once you taste your first bite of white chocolate mixed with peppermint you’ll understand why the recipe makes about 48 pieces.  This is a great recipe to try if you have extra candy canes leftover from the holidays.


Candy Cane Biscotti
adapted from Land o Lakes 

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2/3 cup finely crushed peppermint candy canes
14 ounces white chocolate, melted
extra crushed candy canes to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined – stir in crushed candy cane (I put the candy canes in a Ziploc bag and crushed them with a rolling pin).

Evenly divide dough into 4 pieces on a lightly floured surface. Shape each piece into 9″ x 1 1/2″ round log. Place logs 3 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.


Bake until tops are cracked and ends just start to turn light brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 325 degrees F. Cool logs 10 minutes on cookie sheet.


Cut each log diagonally into 1/2″ slices with sharp serrated knife.  Arrange pieces standing up back onto the baking sheet.

Bake about 13 to 15 minutes or until cookies are light golden brown and crisp on both sides. The centers may still be a little soft, but will firm up as they cool. Place onto a rack and cool completely.

Dip half of each biscotti into melted white chocolate. Immediately sprinkle with additional crushed candy canes and set on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet until the chocolate has set.

Make about 48 pieces.

S'mores Pops


Don't you just love the smell of a campfire?  I certainly do.  I went home to Florida for a weekend last December and had a great time not only soaking up the sun, but seeing my family and high school friends.  While it was warm during the day, the temps dropped considerably at night and I being the Floridian that I am only brought sundresses and sandals in my suitcase.  My brother and sister-in-law recently built a fire-pit in their backyard, so they had a few friends over for s'mores one evening while I was home.  My sister-in-law was nice enough to lend me a few winter items from her closet so I could manage being outside.  Pictures of my brother's backyard beach and fire-pit are below.

 

It had been a while since my last s'more, but they tasted just as I remembered--chocolately marshmallow gooey-ness with a slight crunch of graham cracker.  YUM!  When I reluctantly left the warm weather and returned to D.C. I decided to re-create the campfire s'mores city-style.  You may ask what city-style means.  I'm not quiet sure myself, but perhaps it involves creativity in small spaces.  This version involved creating a s'more indoors without a real fire (and no, I did not roast the marshmallows over a gas stove).

I came across a recipe for S'mores Pops and knew I hit the JACKPOT.  This recipe is so simple and so so good.  I enlisted the help of a nearby friend and have to thank her for her great marshmallow rolling skills.  We also decided to put the pops in little baggies for an extra special touch.


S'mores Pops
adapted from gimme some oven

1 bag (16 oz) large marshmallows
1 bag (16 ounces) milk chocolate chips
1 package graham crackers (crushed)
*Health bars (finely chopped)
Lollipop sticks

First crush the graham crackers by placing them in a ziploc bag and rolling over with a rolling pin.  Pour the crumbs into a shallow bowl.

Take the lollipop sticks and push them into the marshmallows almost to the top, but not all the way through.

Melt the chocolate chips over a double boiler (or in the microwave if you'd prefer) until melted through and glossy.

While holding the lollipop stick, take one pop and gently roll it in the melted chocolate until completely covered.  Next, roll the sides and top of the marshmallow in the graham cracker crumbs until completely coated.   Place on a plate and dry completely.  Repeat these steps with the rest of the marshmallows.

*We decided to try our luck and rolled a few of the chocolate dipped marshmallows in finely chopped heath bar.  Although these technically were not S'mores Pops, they were absolutely amazing and definitely worth a second batch.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Salty Oat Cookie


Two years ago I lived in a building directly across the hall from a friend of mine.  Even though we are both college grads and consider ourselves “adults”, we had our fare share of fun leaving notes to stop by when the other got home and just hanging out in the evenings exchanging stories of the day.  The notes were mostly my thing as I would bake and usually want my neighbor to try the treats when he got home.  Boy was that a sweet deal for him!  (Sad to say we both have since moved out of that building and are no longer neighbors.)


Tonight, as we braved the puddles of slush and treacherous snow banks on nearly every street corner in the city and walked home from a drink with an out of town friend I decided to invite my old neighbor in and relive the good old days…I wanted him to taste the cookies I made for a recently attended dinner party.


If you live in D.C. you have probably heard of Teaism.  If you haven’t, here is a description from their website: “A collection of Asian-inspired teahouses that infuse the cultures of tea and the ideals of teaism with the informality and casualness of America.”  One of my favorite items on their menu besides the mint tisane tea (my father is also hooked on this flavor) and sweet potatoes is their salty oat cookie.  I’m not sure where the salty oat cookie fits in to the Asian teahouse theme, but I don’t really care.  They are the perfect combination of sweet and salty with just the right amount of white chocolate mixed with oats and best of all...topped off with flakes of sea salt.


My old neighbor and dinner party friends said my first attempt at the salty oat cookie turned out just delicious!

Salty Oat Cookie
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
6 ounces white chocolate bar, chopped
1/2 teapoon flaky sea salt (for sprinkling on top)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and table salt in a medium bowl.

Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy (I used a stand mixer, but a hand held mixer will do just fine). Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula, then add the egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl again. Add the flour mixture gradually and mix until just incorporated and smooth. Gradually add the oats and white chocolate and mix until well incorporated.

Divide dough into 24 portions, about 2 tablespoons each. Roll between your palms into balls, then place on the lined baking sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using your fingertips, gently press down each ball to about 3/4-inch thickness.

Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on each cookie. (this is my favorite part!)

Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, about 13 to 16 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack to cool and enjoy!

Chewey Toffee-Coconut Blondies

D.C. experienced record snowfall last week, so what better way to celebrate being snowed in and working from home 4 days in a row than baking a nice batch of toffee blondies! After the 40 minute walk home (thanks to gridlocked intersections and a metro shut down) from a happy hour this evening I decided it was time to try out the recipe I had been eyeing all week.


I know there are others out there like me who LIKE chocolate but just don’t LOVE it. Yes, I admit that I DON’T LOVE CHOCOLATE. Don’t hate me for being honest. These blondies are dedicated to everyone out there who has always wanted to say those words out loud.

The thing I like best about blondies is that you have every bit of brownie goodness with a combination of other amazing flavors. With this recipe you can really use any type of chocolate you’d like (white, dark, semi-sweet, bitter-sweet), but I chose to use dark chocolate from my trip to Ecuador and chopped up some heath bar as well. I also added coconut for a nice contrast.


What more could a girl want?!

Chewey Toffee-Coconut Blondies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan 

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate pieces (I used dark)
1 cup Heath Bar pieces (chopped)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I omitted these)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and butter a 9×13-inch baking pan (I like to use Pam spray with flour).
Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium size bowl.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, until well incorporated. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Turn the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until they disappear into the batter.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate, toffee bits, coconut, and nuts (if you’re using). Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and use the spatula to even the top as best you can. (Helpful hint: spray the back of the spatula or wooden spoon with Pam before you spread the batter in the pan.)
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the blondies comes out clean. The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little and the top should be a nice honey brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for about 15 minutes before turning the blondies out onto another rack. Invert onto a rack and cool the blondies to room temperature right side up.

Cut into 32 bars and enjoy!