Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Crème Brûlée (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake: Crème Brûlée. Crème brûlée - meaning "burnt cream" in French - is a simple dessert. It's a creamy baked custard topped with a sweet, crackly, caramelized sugar topping.

I love crème brûlée. It used to be one of my favorite desserts to order when dining out - until I realized how simple it is to make. My favorite part is the caramelized sugar on top - so when I first learned how to make this at home, I was thrilled because I could make the topping as thick as I wanted (the restaurants always make it too thin, in my opinion).

Crème brûlée is the perfect dessert to serve to dinner guests. It's simple to make, can be prepared ahead of time, and will impress most people because they only enjoy it at restaurants. The ingredient list is also short and sweet: cream, milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla.

My caramelized sugar topping didn't turn out quite as lovely as the one depicted in Dorie's book, despite the fact that I used a crème brûlée torch. I'm not sure if that was because (a) I used brown sugar instead of white, (b) I didn't sift my sugar as directed in the recipe, or (c) I'm just not that talented ;) If you don't have a torch, you can always use your oven broiler to caramelize the sugar (I even used my toaster oven broiler before I acquired the torch) - but just be sure to keep a close eye on it because it goes from sweet and caramelized to bitter and burnt in just a few seconds!

My favorite type of crème brûlée is chocolate, but I wanted to try Dorie's basic vanilla crème brûlée recipe unaltered first, before playing around with it - in order to have a good basis of comparison. I found Dorie's recipe to be delightfully creamy without being too heavy. My favorite recipe contains four egg yolks, so it's heavier and more dense. I'm not sure that I prefer one over the other per se; they're just different and I think it depends on what you're in the mood for :) I also found the flavor of the vanilla in this to be quite strong - perhaps too strong - so I would consider decreasing the vanilla extract to one teaspoon the next time I make it. (Though my husband thought the vanilla flavor was just right.)

Thanks, Mari, for choosing this week's recipe. I loved it. If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. If you're a chocolate lover and have never tried chocolate crème brûlée, you have to try this other recipe. Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see how everyone else enjoyed this elegant dessert.

*A few notes about this recipe:
- Dorie does not use a water bath for this recipe; instead she uses a very low baking temperature (200F).
- You don't need to strain the mixture into the ramekins as long as you temper the eggs appropriately. Just add the hot liquid a tablespoon at a time until you've added 1/4 of it and you shouldn't have any problems. The straining will also help with some of the bubbles, but the caramelized sugar layer will hide any bubbles on top of your custard.
- Next time, I will add 1-1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract instead of 2 teaspoons.
- If you don't have whole milk on hand, you can use the other recipe I posted instead.
- Although I used shallow 4 ounce crème brûlée ramekins, I only got four servings from this recipe, instead of six.
- If you have the smaller, deeper ramekins like these, you'll have to increase your baking time. I think other TWD bakers noted that it took approximately 90-100 minutes to completely set.
- For more recipe tips, click here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lavash Crackers with Roasted Red Pepper Dip

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen by Natalie of Gluten A Go Go and Shel of Musings From the Fishbowl: Lavash Crackers. Lavash is an Armenian-style cracker similar to other middle eastern and northern African flatbreads such as mankoush, pita, and kesret. The primary difference among these flatbreads is either how thick or thin they are rolled out or the type of oven in which they are baked.

I recently made some homemade crackers to serve with my baked brie, so I already knew how simple and delicious homemade crackers can be. Unfortunately, somehow the month go away from me and I thought the posting date for this month's challenge was a little closer to the end of the month. Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to check to see what the post date was a few days ago, only to find out I had two days left! Luckily, this challenge was not too labor intensive, so I was able to complete it in one day. I started these after lunch today, and here I am, posting them now :)

This month's challenge was different from most because for the first time, we were required to make something vegan. We also had the option of making these both vegan and gluten free, but seeing as no one in this household has gluten allergies, mine are not gluten free. We also had to make a vegan dip, spread, relish, or salsa to serve with these, but otherwise we had complete freedom to make whatever we desired.

You can top these crackers with numerous different seasonings and spices, including poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt. I decided to make half with salt, coarsely ground black pepper, and sesame seeds

and the other half with Johnny's Great Caesar Garlic Spread and Seasoning.

I originally wanted to serve these with some of my favorite homemade guacamole, but they didn't have any ripe avocados at the store this morning so I decided to make a roasted red pepper dip instead. Most of the roasted red pepper dips I came across online were not vegan, but I was able to find a vegan recipe on Delish.

This dip was so simple to make. The longest step was roasting the garlic, but you can use fresh minced garlic instead if you'd prefer. I simply placed the garlic cloves on some foil, drizzled them with olive oil, wrapped them up tightly in the foil and placed them in the oven with the crackers while they were baking. After the crackers were done, so was my roasted garlic! If you don't count the time it takes to roast the garlic, this dip only takes five minutes to prepare! This roasted red pepper dip was light and delicious. Next time I might add some chopped fresh basil as well for a little more flavor.

The crackers were very simple to make. I made them two different thicknesses. One batch I made paper thin and they came out super crispy and light. The second batch I made a bit thicker, and they came out more like pita chips. It really just depends on what you prefer. I really like the ones that were seasoned with the garlic seasoning; the other ones were a little bland, but maybe that was my fault for not adding enough (I seasoned very lightly since the recipe warns that a little bit goes a long way).

Thanks to Natalie and Shel for hosting this month's challenge. I really enjoyed trying another recipe for homemade crackers. Make sure you visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see hundreds of other variations on these!

Lavash Crackers
from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart

The key to a crisp lavash is to roll out the dough paper-thin. The sheet can be cut into crackers in advance or snapped into shards after baking. The shards make a nice presentation when arranged in baskets.

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (click here for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit (I used my dough hook on the KitchenAid Mixer and kneaded it on Speed 2 for at least 30 minutes - it never became a beautiful, thin, windowpane, but it did stretch a little more). The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.


2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.


4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip
adapted from Delish

12 ounces canned fire roasted red peppers (alternatively, you can roast your own*)
3 cloves of garlic, roasted**
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Splash of red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in food processor/mini prep/blender until combined.

Yield: Approximately 1/2 cup

*How to Roast a Red Pepper:

If you have a gas stove, you can place the peppers over the open flame until the skin becomes blackened. Once the skins are brownish-black, remove from the oven and immediately place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 20 minutes or so (or until the peppers have time to cool and “sweat”). Once they have cooled you will be able to peel the skins right off.

Otherwise, you can use the oven method. Cut the peppers in half and clean out the seeds and innards. Place them on a baking sheet skin side up. Place the sheet in a 450-500 degree oven set on broil. The skin will start to blacken and soften in 7-10 minutes. Once the skins are brownish-black, remove from the oven and immediately place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 20 minutes or so (or until the peppers have time to cool and “sweat”). Once they have cooled you will be able to peel the skins right off.

** How to Roast Garlic:

Place the garlic cloves on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle olive oil over the garlic and then wrap it up in the foil. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes. You can also use finely minced garlic in this recipe to save time if you don't want to roast the garlic.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lemon Basil Dimply Peach Cake (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Michelle of Fool for Food: Dimply Plum Cake. I was at home with my parents these past few days, so I had to work with what was on hand. They didn't have any plums, but they did have plenty of peaches so I went with Dorie's suggestion to adapt the recipe into a Lemon Basil Dimply Peach Cake instead.

I also didn't have any vanilla extract, so I used a vanilla bean instead. Look at those beautiful flecks of vanilla bean seeds and lemon zest! :)

This cake was just okay for me. I'm not sure why, because it seems like all the other TWD bakers loved it. The flavors of the lemon and basil in this cake were wonderful, but I found the cake itself to be very dry. Perhaps I overbaked it? I used a 9-inch pan instead of an 8-inch pan and still baked it for the full 40 minutes, but I tried to check it early and it did not test done at 30 minutes. I probably should have tested it again at 35 minutes. Or maybe it was because I used unbleached flour? If you have any ideas, let me know.

I've included the adapted recipe below, as I made it. If you would like the original recipe, you can find it here (with recipe tips here). Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see how everyone else enjoyed this dimply little treat.

Sorry this post is a bit shorter than usual, but I've been out of town for a few days to attend my grandmother's funeral and barely had the chance to get this done. It's still hard to believe that she's gone, even though we knew her time left with us was short (she had liver cancer). It was only by God's grace that she passed away without any pain or suffering. We find solace knowing that she is in a better place now.

Lemon Basil Dimply Peach Cake
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt (alternatively, you can use unsalted butter and 1/4 tsp salt)
5 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or sunflower
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and seeded - learn how here (or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)
2 large peaches, halved and pitted
3 basil leaves, finely chopped

Getting ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and put the pan on a baking sheet. (I used a 9-inch pan so my cake was thinner - consequently, I had to slice off the bottoms of my peaches so they wouldn't be popping up over the cake. My peaches were about 1-inch thick/tall after I sliced them.)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Working with a mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes, then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a minute after each egg goes in. Still working on medium speed, beat in the oil, zest and vanilla bean seeds—the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.

Add the chopped basil and run a spatula around the bowl and under the batter, mixing just to make sure there are no dry spots, then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Arrange the peaches cut side up in the batter and jiggle the peaches a tad just so they settle comfortably into the batter.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is honey brown and puffed around the plums and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes—during which time the plums’ juices will seep back into the cake—then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up.

Storing: You can wrap the cake and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days, during which time it will get softer and moister.

Yield: 8 servings

Friday, September 19, 2008

Baked Brie with Homemade Crackers

I was first introduced to Baked Brie several years ago by my friend Kari. She brought it for a potluck and I instantly fell in love with it. Even more so when I found out just how easy it is to make! It's the perfect appetizer to bring to a party when you don't have much time on your hands because it only takes about thirty minutes for both the prep and baking!

I recently found myself craving some baked brie. I had everything I needed, except the crackers to go with them. Usually I love to serve baked brie with wheat thins, as I like how their salty, grainy flavor complements the sweet and smooth flavor of the brie. I was too lazy to put on a change of clothes and run to the store, though, so I found myself flipping through The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion for a cracker recipe.

I never thought I'd ever make my own crackers - or choose to make them from scratch instead of running to the store to get them. Once you realize how much better homemade stuff is, compared to the store bought prepackaged stuff you can get, you're much more motivated to making things yourself though. Making homemade pita bread was definitely a testament to that. So with that experience in mind, I forged ahead with this cracker recipe.

I was surprised at how easy it was to make these crackers - the method was very similar to making biscuits, except you roll the doll out into a super thin layer and then cut them into rectangles. These crackers are called "Thin Wheat Crackers" and I thought they might taste like Wheat Thins, but they didn't really taste like those at all. The sesame seeds were definitely a nice touch, and these crackers were really good... but I wouldn't call them Wheat Thins. They sort of remind me of the little sesame crackers you get in those Asian snack mixes. If you're not a big fan of sesame seeds, just omit them from the recipe.

When my husband saw me baking these, he asked me what I was making. I informed him that I was making crackers from scratch, at which point he laughed at me and then walked away. After these came out of the oven, he could not keep his hands off of them. I told him he should never doubt me again! ;)

Baked Brie

1 Puff Pastry Sheet, thawed
1 round of Brie (I like to remove the white "skin" from my brie using a vegetable peeler but that is optional)
12 ounces fruit preserves (my favorite is cherry)

Preheat oven to 350F

Unfold the puff pastry into a single layer on a baking sheet. Spread the fruit preserves over the center. Place the brie on top of the fruit preserves.

Fold the pastry dough over the top of the brie and press the edges together to seal tightly.

You can bake the brie as is on the baking sheet, but I prefer to invert it into an oven safe bowl so the seams are on the bottom, and any juices that leak will stay in the bowl.

Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve with your favorite crackers or some sliced apples.

Thin Wheat Crackers
from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion

1 cup (4.25 ounces) unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all purpose flour (I used bleached all purpose flour)
1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup (1.25 ounces) sesame seeds
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) butter
scant 1/2 cup (3.75 ounces) milk (I used skim)
Coarse salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, sesame seeds, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter (use a pastry blender or two knives), then stir in the milk, adding just enough milk to form a workable dough.

Divide the dough into three pieces and roll it out ultra-thin, one piece at a time- 1/16 inch, if you can manage it (the thinner they are, the better; the thicker ones don't taste as good). Sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt, if desired, and use the rolling pin to press the salt into the dough.

Cut the dough into 1 x 2-inch rectangles. Transfer the crackers to baking sheets and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until they begin to brown. Cool on a rack.

Yield: About 8 Dozen Crackers

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chocolate Chunkers (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Claudia of Fool for Food: Chocolate Chunkers. I already said last week that I'm not a big fan of chocolate cookies, but Dorie proved me wrong with her Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops, so I went into this with an open mind.

These definitely earn their name of "Chunkers" as they're chock full of chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, nuts, and raisins. There are actually more add-ins with this cookie than dough! I made some changes to the recipe, by decreasing the amount of nuts and increasing the amount of dried fruit. I hate nuts and usually omit them from all recipes, but I thought that I might not notice the nuts in these since they have so much going on with them. So I tried them with the nuts, just less of them.

I thought these cookies were okay. I'm just not a chocolate cookie fan. I didn't care for the nuts at all and wish I had just omitted them, and added more chocolate and dried fruit instead. I'm probably in the minority, though, because these seemed to be a really big hit among most of the other TWD bakers.

I've included the adapted recipe below, as I made them. If you would like the original recipe, you can find it here (with recipe tips here). Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see how everyone else enjoyed these chunky treats.

Chocolate Chunkers
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/8 tsp salt (alternatively, you can use 3 tbsp unsalted butter with 1/2 tsp salt)
3 tbsp salted butter, cut into 3 pieces
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 ounces white chocolate chips
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (I would omit these next time)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup finely chopped moist, plump dried apricots (I would add 1 cup next time to make up for the volume lost by omitting the nuts)

Center the rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the butter, 6 ounces of semisweet chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate and heat, stirring occasionally, just until melted--the chocolate and and butter should be smooth and shiny but not so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the counter to cool.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until they are pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla extract, then scrape down the bowl. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted butter and chocolate, mixing only until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl, then, on low speed, add the dry ingredients. Mix just until the dry ingredients disappear in the dough, which will be thick, smooth and shiny. Scrape down the bowl and, using the rubber spatula, mix in the rest of the semisweet chocolate chips (6 ounces), white chocolate chips, nuts, and dried fruit--you'll have more crunchies than dough at this point. (The dough can be wrapped in plastic and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days).

Drop the dough by generously heaping tablespoonfuls on to the baking sheets, leaving about an inch of space between the mounds of dough. (These cookies do not spread very much - you may want to press them down a little with the bottom of a glass before baking.)

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops of the cookies will look a little dry but the interiors should still be soft. Let the cookies rest for 2 to 3 minutes before using a wide metal spatula to transfer them to the racks to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

If, when the cookies are cooled, the chocolate is still gooey and you'd like it to be a bit firmer, just pop the cookies into the fridge for about 10 minutes.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Peanut Buttercups with Peanut-Penuche Icing

I don't bake cupcakes very often; I'm not really sure why. Probably because I only have one muffin pan and I'm too lazy to bake them in batches. I also don't see what the big deal is about Sprinkles Cupcakes. Sure, they have a lot of flavor combinations, but they don't taste that good. Plus I've seen much better cupcakes created by all the wonderful bakers who participate in Cupcake Hero every month.

I came across this recipe when I was craving something sweet, made with peanut butter. It's a peanut butter cupcake filled with chocolate, then topped off with a peanut-penuche icing. Penuche is a fudge-like candy made by boiling brown sugar, milk, and butter. My free sample of "chocolately" TCHO chocolate (courtesty of Blake Makes) was perfect in this recipe.

My only problem was that I misread the recipe instructions and thought I was supposed to place the chocolate in the middle of the batter. Turns out you're supposed to fill the muffin pan half way, add the chocolate, then fill it three-quarters of the way to the top (placing the chocolate in the top third of the batter). This mistake caused my chocolate to be pretty close to the bottom of the cupcakes by the time they were finished baking, instead of closer to the middle.

This recipe is supposed to yield twelve "Texas-size" cupcakes. I'm not sure how big a "Texas-size" muffin pan is supposed to be, but I used my molten cake pan for these and got six super big cupcakes and then four "regular" sized ones with the remaining batter. (Next time I'll just make the regular sized ones - the others ones were huge.)

Sometimes I'll bake something, turn around, and find that it's almost all gone, consumed by my husband before even I realize what has happened! One of the perks of making baked goods with peanut butter is that my husband hates peanut butter in anything except for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. So I learned early on in the relationship that if I wanted to keep him out of my sweets, all I had to do was bake with peanut butter :)

Well, I failed miserably this time. I gave him one bite of my cupcake and he immediately came back, claiming the rest of mine! Now if that doesn't say anything about how good these are, I don't know what does!

The cake itself is incredibly moist, but it's the icing that makes these special. It's a sweet, fudgey, peanut buttery icing. I iced my cupcakes while the icing was still a bit warm, so instead of sitting nicely atop the cupcakes, it oozed over the edges. Still totally edible and incredibly delicious, but a little messy - so if you want cupcakes that don't require a fork for consumption, I'd recommend letting the icing cool for a few minutes first.

If you like peanut butter, you have to try these. (Even if you don't, you might still like them - look at my husband). I even had one coworker ask me if I would make these again for her birthday. I happily agreed, then asked her when her birthday is. She replied, "March." I laughed. They must be good if I'm getting a request over six months in advance :)

This is also my submission to the September Tasty Tools event, featuring bakeware.

Peanut Buttercups with Peanut-Penuche Icing
from The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather

1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky (I used smooth)
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3.5 ounce bar bittersweet chocolate, cut into 12 squares (I used TCHO "chocolatey" chocolate; you can also substitute chocolate chips if needed)

Peanut-Penuche Filling
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky (I used smooth)
1/4 cup milk (I used skim)
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar

To Make the Cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly coat 6 Texas-size muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray or Baker's Joy. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl on medium speed for about 30 seconds. (Don't worry if there are a few sugar lumps.) Add the butter, peanut butter, milk, and vanilla. Mix for 1 minute on medium-low speed. Add the eggs and beat for 1-1/2 minutes on medium-high speed. Fill the prepared muffin cups with batter halfway to the top. Place 2 squares of chocolate in the middle of the batter and add more batter to fill the muffin cups three-quarters of the way to the top.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (mine were ready at 28 minutes), until the tops of the muffins are light brown and a toothpick stuck into the middle comes out with no crumbs clinging to it. (A bit of melted chocolate from the center may show, but that doesn't count.)

Cool the muffins for 10 minutes before removing them from the pan. Let them cool on racks at least 5 minutes longer before frosting.

To Make the Icing:
Combine the butter, peanut butter, milk, brown sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a low boil and cook for 1-1/2 minutes without stirring. Take the pan off the burnder and cool about 30 minutes (do not let it sit longer than 30 minutes or the icing will not mix smoothly). Add the vanilla and powdered sugar. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until the icing is creamy and of spreading consistency, about 1 minutes. Ice the cooled cupcakes immediately. (If you let it cool for a bit first, it's less runny and easier to spread across the top.)

Tightly wrapped, the cupcakes will keep for 2 days at room temperature and up to 3 weeks frozen.

Tip: Dealing with peanut butter or other sticky ingredients such as honey or corn syrup can be a royal pain, especially when moving them from measuring cup to batter. A light coating of cooking spray on the inside of the measuring cup will allow peanut butter or any other sticky ingredient to slide out much more easily.

Yield: 12 Cupcakes

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Rachel of Confessions of a Tangerine Tart: Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops. They're cocoa cookies studded with chocolate chips and chunks of chocolate covered malted milk balls.

It's funny because I grew up eating Whoppers. They were my favorite candy to snack on at the movies. Yet when I told my coworkers what was in these cookies, no one knew what I was talking about. One person even asked, "You mean like at McDonald's?" Ha! First of all, those whoppers are found at Burger King, not McDonald's. Secondly, why would I put a burger in my cookies?!

Let me just start by stating that I do not like chocolate cookies. I love cookies with chocolate chips or chocolate chunks in them, but I do not like chocolate based cookies. So I wasn't sure if I would like these.

Boy did Dorie surprise me with this one! I loved these and simply could not get enough of them! I'll be pretty surprised if I ever come across another chocolate cookie that I like as much. Some of the Whopper candies kind of melt and caramelize in the oven, so some bites are crunchy and others a bit more gooey. I was worried about the candy pieces being too big, so I quartered most of them, with some pieces being even smaller. I think the smaller pieces were the ones that caramelized. I think next time I make these (and trust me, there will be a next time!), I will just halve them.

There is actually an error of omission in this particular recipe. Dorie fails to note at what temperature to bake the cookies! I baked mine at 350F and they were done in 13 minutes, just as Dorie notes.

Thanks Rachel, for choosing this recipe. I've finally found a chocolate cookie that I not only like, but love! If you would like the recipe for these cookies, you can find it here on Rachel's blog. Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see how everyone else enjoyed this chocolately treat.

*A few additional notes about this recipe:

- I could not find malted milk powder so I used chocolate Ovaltine
I used 7.5 ounces of whoppers instead of 6 ounces
I used semisweet chocolate chips instead of bittersweet chocolate

*Update (9/12/08) - I just made these again and discovered the following things:
- The whoppers are not better when chopped in half - they were hard and unpleasant to bite into after being baked; if you make these,
at least chop them into quarters (or smaller).
- The cookies flattened out more when I tried making larger cookies; for the best results, use a small or medium cookie scoop.
- I think the next time I make these, I will increase the whoppers to 10 ounces and decrease the chocolate chips to 1/2-3/4 cups.
- For more recipe tips, click here.

Before ending this post, I also need to take a moment to wish my dear husband Happy Anniversary! Today marks 3 years since we said 'I do' :) Here are a few photos to help commemorate the occasion.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad

Chipotles are actually smoke-dried jalapeño peppers. Not sure why they need a different name instead of just "dried jalapeños." Guess it's kind of like how we call dried plums prunes :) Chipotles come in many forms (dried, powder, etc.) but the most common form I've seen used in recipes are the canned chipotles in adobo sauce. If you use just the chipotle chiles in this salad, it's only mildly spicy. If you particularly enjoy a lot of heat (like I do) you can add extra chipotle chiles and a teaspoon or two of the adobo sauce.

I'm always looking for quick and easy weeknight dinner ideas and this definitely fit the bill. Plus it's pretty healthy, so even better. I love tex mex dishes with black beans and corn. Top it off with some avocado and I'm sold :) This salad really comes together in just minutes. You can prepare the dressing and cook the chicken the night before. Or, save even more time buy using a store bought/precooked rotisserie chicken. For a little extra crunch in your salad, add some deep fried tortilla strips or crushed tortilla chips.

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad
from Cooking Light

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2/3 cup light sour cream
1 tablespoon minced chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce (I used about 1.5 tbsp mince chipotles + 2 tsp adobo sauce)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
2 cups chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 2 breasts) (I seasoned some chicken with salt and pepper, then grilled it on the George Foreman Grill)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup diced peeled avocado
1/3 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (8 3/4-ounce) can no-salt-added whole-kernel corn, rinsed and drained

To prepare dressing, combine first 7 ingredients, stirring well.

To prepare salad, combine lettuce and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss gently to coat. Serve immediately.

Tip: Add a spoonful of adobo sauce for a spicier salad. Kidney or pinto beans also taste great in this dish.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 1/2 cups)