MoM Sept. ’09 Bon Appetit: Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries

Okay! Welcome back to another segment of our Magazine of the Month: Bon Appetit! This time I am pretty sure I got the month right: September.

Yes, it’s from the year 2009. Smart asses.

My photos for these cookies were few and not that attractive, and it’s too bad because the cookies are quite wonderful. I should have tried harder to do them justice and now I’m kicking myself.

Here’s the Bon Appetit photo. My end result does look almost exactly like the cookies in the professional photo, with the exception of my use of white chips rather than chocolate and my dried cherries were a little smaller.

mare_chocolate_chip_oatmeal_cookies_with_dried_cherries_v
Courtesy of Bon Appetit

I was really pleased with the white chips in the cookie because it gave the cherries a slightly candied flavor. The cookies were thin and crisp and the oatmeal, because it is processed quite finely, lends itself not only to the flavor, but also to a more substantial structure.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries

I’m aiming to do more of those “in process montages” that I’ve put together in the past, where there will be 4 – 8 small photos all lumped together to show the food as it is being made. I should have done that here, because I was really excited at how this dough is put together:

Food processor, baby!

Yes, nearly the entire thing is done right inside the food processor for the comfort, ease, and pleasure of not being irritated that someone sprayed cookie batter onto three walls, ceiling and both cats by unauthorized mixer speeds.

Not that it’s ever happened to me or anything.

Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries
Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2009
Makes about 4 dozen, Prep: 20 minutes, Total: 1 hour

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups dried tart cherries (6 ounces)
1 1/4 cups white chips

Position 1 rack in bottom third and 1 rack in top third of oven; preheat to 375°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Blend first 4 ingredients in processor 30 seconds. Add eggs; process to blend. Add next 4 ingredients. Using on/off turns, process until oats are coarsely chopped and mixture is blended. Transfer to large bowl. Mix in cherries and white chips.

Spoon batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart (cookies will spread). Bake until tops of cookies are golden brown, rotating baking sheets after 7 minutes, about 12 minutes total. Transfer cookies to rack; let cool. Repeat with remaining batter.

This is a fun cookie – it just tastes fun! – and the addition of cherries is a great twist for the fall season. The oats can be processed as finely as you want, so if you aren’t crazy about the texture of oatmeal then you can keep on pulsing until it’s a texture you like. I love oatmeal, so I didn’t mind having some flakes mixed around. The original recipe calls for baking them for 14 minutes, but I found that to be too long. Take your cookie out when the center is still a little pale, as it will continue to bake on the rack/cookie sheet. Baking them until consistently brown throughout will leave them a little hard after they’ve completely cooled. Despite being a flat, crisp cookie, these seem sturdy enough for travel so I’ll probably drop them in my Christmas cookie gift boxes again this year.

Last year I made a cookie for my Christmas boxes that was similar to this (Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies). But you’ll notice that it’s a soft, risen drop cookie – basically, it’s a chocolate chip cookie with extra goober in it. This new version is a flat, crispy oatmeal cookie, but with extra goober in it.

The point is, drop cookies all pretty much hail from a small handful of recipes and they all have slight variations on each other, with different goobers added. If you can make one drop cookie, you can make them all. No exception.

If you like to bake but don’t want to go through the fuss and mess of putting them together, try this out. It’s two more steps than a purchased cookie dough, and ten times more satisfying.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries 2

Okay, I don’t know the exact ratio of satisfaction – the above number was just a guess. If it’s that important I can get a math nerd on the case.

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MoM Aug. ‘09 – ATK American Classics: Whoopie Pies

I was first introduced to Whoopie Pies by Martha Stewart who made them with her sons during one of her shows. I was really interested in the recipe, which I put into a plain notepad file on my PC desktop where it’s sat there for years, untouched. “One day, I’ll make these,” I’d tell myself, and of course never get around to it. Our latest Magazine of the Month had printed its own delectable version, so I decided to jump right in!

American Classics - Mini

Not really a cookie and not quite a cake, Whoopie Pies are about as big as your head and filled with a light, fluffy concoction of either vegetable shortening or marshmallow creme. This one brought to us by ATK involves marshmallow, which scared me at first because I’m not big on having a mouthful of marshmallow. When I took my first bite and found that the marshmallow had been diluted and refined slightly by adding lots of butter and a pinch of salt, a wonderful balance had been reached. The chocolate sandwich portion is quite soft and cake-like in texture, but strong enough to be held in your hands without breaking. You may think these are quite unremarkable, as did I when I first assembled them. But after I took the first bite — and then couldn’t stop myself — I realized how truly remarkable this little American classic is. Reportedly, when Amish farmers found these in their lunch pails, they would shout, “Whoopie!”

Whoopie Pies

Whoopie, indeed!

Whoopie Pies
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen: American Classics
Serves 6

Cakes
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar (as fresh as you can get)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool (I stick mine in the microwave for about 10 seconds)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Filling
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 tablespoon salt
1 3/4 – 2 cups marshmallow creme (just dump the whole jar of fluff in there)

For the cakes: Adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

With electric mixer on medium speed, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in egg until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, then beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and beat in one-third of flour mixture then half of buttermilk. Repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, then remaining buttermilk, and finally the remaining flour mixture. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir.

Using 1/3 cup measure, scoop 6 mounds of batter onto each baking sheet ,spacing mounds about 3 inches apart. (Be sure to do this — they will spread out, big time!)

Whoopie Pies - batter
Sure, they look like German Shepard sized dog turds, but I promise they’ll come out of the oven looking delicious.

Bake until cakes spring back when pressed, 15 to 18 minutes, switching and rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool completely on baking sheets, at least 1 hour.

Whoopie Pies - baked
See? Amazing.

For the filling: With mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate filling until slightly firm, about 30 minutes. (Bowl can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Dollop 1/3 cup filling on center of flat side of 6 cakes. Top with flat side of remaining 6 cakes and gently press until filling spreads to edge of cake. Serve. Whoopie Pies can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 3 days.

Whoopie Pies - assembly

P.S. You’re welcome for the dog turd comment. LOL

Red Velvet Cake with Raspberries & Blueberries

I love making desserts. I’m pretty good at it and they’re so much fun to share. Who’s ever been angry with you for giving them cookies and cake? Even models and beauty queens will thank you, enjoy it, and barf it up in private later.

Just kidding.

Maybe.

This weekend I had a get together with some friends, which provided me with the opportunity to bake. Woo hoo!

Red Velvet Cake with Raspberries and Blueberries

From an old Bon Appetit magazine comes this summery, southern treat with just a tease of chocolate and the addition of fresh fruit. A friend suggested I should have also topped this with blackberries — a fantastic suggestion that I think we should all follow for next time.

I ended up not having enough food coloring for this — the original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, but I only had a half. Then I just had to pray that my cakes didn’t turn out pink.

Pink Batter
Uh…

Thankfully, the cakes did come out red and the dessert was a huge hit. The cakes themselves were moist and delicious, and the addition of fruit with the cream cheese frosting was such a tasty touch. If you’re not a big baker, this is an easy cake to put together. It’s also an easy cake to make look beautiful, because blemishes can be covered up with frosting and fruit. (You can’t tell in the pictures, but one of my cakes sank a little bit in the center — I made that my bottom layer and just stuffed a little more fruit in between the cakes to fill it out.)

First Cake Layer - with berries & cream cheese frosting
Fruit is actually incorporated into the cake by sprinkling it between the layers, rather than just throwing it on top like an afterthought.

Red Velvet Cake with Raspberries and Blueberries
Adapted from Bon Appetit

CAKE
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tablespoon red food coloring
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs

FROSTING
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 1/2-pint baskets fresh raspberries
3 1/2-pint baskets fresh blueberries

FOR CAKE:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 27 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely.

FOR FROSTING:
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over top of cake. Arrange 1 basket raspberries and 1/2 basket blueberries atop frosting, pressing lightly to adhere. Top with second cake layer, flat side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange remaining berries decoratively over top of cake. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.)

Now, on the above photograph of the layering process, you can see that the cakes are pretty crumbly on the edges. When I frosted the sides, a lot of the crumbs came off and got all gooped up in the frosting and ended up not looking as spectacular as I wanted. (As an aside, I don’t think anyone cared — they just said, “Ohmygodcake!” And then we had a stampede.) What I should have done for cleaner sides is spread a “crumb” layer where a very thin layer of frosting goes on the sides to collect the crumbs, then stick it in the refrigerator for 15 – 20 minutes. Once that thin layer of frosting hardens, then I could have brought it back out and frosted the rest.

As they say, hind sight. 20/20.

I wanted to provide a really beautiful inside shot of the cake however, due to the aforementioned stampede, I ended up with more of a cake autopsy. Here it is, and the cake did turn out nice and (mostly) red.

Cake Autopsy
Scalpel… Forceps…

Not beautiful, but everyone was enjoying it and that’s better than having a pretty cake no one likes. Here’s the Bon Appetit photo, which looks a lot prettier:

Bon Appetit Red Velvet Cake

You won’t be disappointed with this one. The addition of the berries make it a very appropriate dessert for the summer.

Peanut Butter Torte

Chocolate and peanut butter, combined together in one glorious creation. There’s not much better. Put me in front of a candy machine with a fistful of change and I’ll go for a Peanut Butter Cup every time. Even if you’re not a peanut butter fan it doesn’t matter because chocolate makes it better, showing peanut butter off like a frilly male dancer featuring his lady compatriot in the midst of a heated tango contest.

That’s a photoshop moment begging to be fulfilled, but I just don’t have the time. How about this, instead:

Peanut Butter Torte - Thumbs Up
Our Web Admin shows his appreciation for chocolate and peanut butter with a definite thumbs up.

For our Independence Day celebration, I put together Dorie Greenspan’s Peanut Butter Torte. Aside from the wonderfulness of chocolate and peanut butter, the best I can describe this is if Mr. Stay Puft and and Willy Wonka had a love child, this torte would be the product of that union.

Too much?

Peanut Butter Torte

Anyhoo, this rich dessert took me by surprise. The base of it is obviously peanut butter, as well as cream cheese. Based on those two ingredients, my first impression was that the body of the torte was going to be quite dense, but it’s actually incredibly light and almost fluffy by adding 2 cups of (whipped) whipping cream and sifted confectioners’ sugar.

Here’s the montage:

Peanut Butter Torte - Montage

You’ll see this in the instructions below but, first you whip up the whipped cream. Next you beat the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar together, and add the peanut butter and some chopped peanuts. Lastly, you mix in that whipped cream (gently, by hand so as not to undo the whipping of the cream and mash everything into a dense paste). When that’s all done, you get this:

Torte Mixture

And this goes into a simple butter and Oreo crust.

Peanut Butter Torte
Adapted from Baking, From My Home to Yours

1 1/4 cups finely chopped salted peanuts
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
24 Oreo cookies, ground into fine crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups slated peanut butter – crunchy or smooth, not natural
2 tablespoons milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Toss 1/2 cup of the chopped peanuts, sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl. Set aside.

Put Oreo crumbs, melted butter and salt in another small bowl and stir until crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs evenly over bottom and up the sides of the springform pan (they should go up 2 inches). Freeze crust for 10 minutes, then bake crust for 10 minutes, transfer to a rack and let it cool completely.

Whip 2 cups of the cream until it holds medium peaks (see photo above to get an idea of what that should look like). Beat in 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar and whip unitl the cream holds medium-firm peaks. Scrape the cream into a bowl and refrigerate until needed.

Wipe out bowl and beat cream cheese with remaining 1 cup confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until mixture is satiny smooth. Beat in peanut butter, 1/4 cup of the chopped peanuts and the milk. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir in about 1/4 of the whipped cream, just to lighten the mousse. Still working with the spatula, stir in the crunchy peanut mixture, then gingerly fold in the remaining whipped cream. Scrape mousse into the crust mounding and smoothing the top. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. (The original recipe says to refrigerate for 4 hours, but the mousse inside was just way too soft and goopy — give it a little longer to set.) Cover with plastic wrap as soon as the mousse firms.

To finish the torte: Put the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Leave the bowl over the water just until the chocolate softens and starts to melt, about 3 minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan.

Bring the remaining 1/2 cup of cream to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and, working with a spatula, very gently stir together the ganache until it is completely smooth and glossy. Pour the ganache over the torte, smoothing it with a spatula. Scatter the remaining 1/2 cup peanuts over the top and chill to set the topping – about 20 minutes. (Do not leave off the peanuts — the added crunch really makes the torte.)

When the ganache is firm, remove the sides of the springform pan. Refrigerate until ready and serve.

We quite liked this, though I thought there could have been more chocolate. My preference is to have a balance of chocolate and peanut butter and, in this case, the peanut butter ratio is a little higher than I would have liked. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike it, I just think the chocolate and peanut butter should have been an even balance. Still, peanut butter fans will be very happy with this dessert. It’s a good casual treat this summer that won’t disappoint.

Peanut Butter Torte - Slice

Cocoa-Banana Bread

I know, I know, I said I was on a hunt for healthy breakfasts I could take to work in the morning. In my defense, this has bananas and eggs and flour. That’s three out of the four food groups, right?

Chocolate Banana Loaf

I had bananas and wanted to make a little bread with it. Over the years, a lot of the banana breads I’ve tried have ended up very dry. The only one that didn’t called for an 8-ounce block of cream cheese and I didn’t have that on hand. So, I went searching for something new.

This loaf is surprisingly moist and incredibly dense. At first I was a little disappointed because I used an extra-dark chocolate which made the first few bites ultra-chocolatey.

It’s okay, though. I got over it.

Next time, though, I’ll use regular cocoa. Also, for anyone who usually puts in baking shortcuts like me, I wrote this with my methodology that skips sifting all of the dry ingredients except for the cocoa, which I dumped into a strainer and shook out. I prefer strainers over sifters because they’re a lot easier to clean. (Hello, Mr. Dishwasher!)

After the batter came together, I was very worried because it’s a lot of batter for a small baking dish. My fear was the dough was going to rise and double. But it doesn’t, which is where the moistness and denseness comes in. On the back end of your bite, the banana flavor kicks in, creating a subtle, tasty treat. Maybe you won’t feel good about eating this for breakfast, but maybe later with a small cup of coffee…

Me? Oh, I had no qualms eating this and licking it off my fingers when I was done.

Sliced Chocolate Banana Loaf

Cocoa-Nana Bread
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking – From My Home to Yours

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1/2 cup store-bought chocolate chips

Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9×5 inch loaf pan and place it on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked on top of one another. This extra insulation will keep the bottom of the bread from overbaking.

In a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for one minute, until softened. (My butter had been sitting out overnight, so I skipped this.) Add the sugars and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Reduce the mixer to low speed and mix in the mashed bananas.

Sift the cocoa powder into the bowl, and add the salt and baking soda. Mix on low speed until just combined. Add each cup of flour one at a time, mixing until just combined. Add the buttermilk, mixing on low speed until incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate and scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes. Cover the bread loosely with a foil tent to keep the top from getting too dark and continue to bake for another 40 – 45 minutes or until a thin knife in the center comes out clean.

(Note: My loaf pan was 8.5×4.5, so my loaf of bread required another 10 – 12 minutes of baking.)

Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edges of the bread and unmolding it. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

Almond Jam Cake

I’ve been looking for new, regular things to review for the site, similarly to the Magazine of the Month segment. Maybe it appeals to me because it’s lazy; instead of always having to dig around for something that looks good, there’s always a pool of recurring things to choose from. However, the hard part of committing to an ongoing project is that you don’t want to commit to something that has the tendency to suck later. Case in point: Some of our submissions to the site Magazine of the Month haven’t always delivered, and that’s not just disappointing, it’s frustrating.

I’m approaching Gourmet Magazine’s Monthly Dessert with the same trepidation, but I think I’m going to go for it and review it on an ongoing basis anyway. If it starts to suck, then I’m abandoning the project, taking off and nuking the site from orbit.

Or whatever. You get the picture. If not, at least get this picture:

Gourmet Walnut Jam Cake

This month, Gourmet is featuring Walnut Jam Cake. Their Dessert of the Month Features are all web-exclusive, and look fairly appealing. A jam cake, however, didn’t exactly excite me. It’s a personal thing. The desserts I enjoy tend to be a little more rich and decadent, and usually involve chocolate, and this one didn’t meet any of the criteria.

Temptation called early on, as it did have a couple of things going for it:

1. I finally got to use my 8-inch springform pan that barely gets any attention.
2. The cake is made almost entirely in a food processor.

So I went to work… though not too much, because, as I said, it’s all done in the food processor. Oh yeah, baby.

Alternatively, if you want to make this cake and you don’t have a processor, you just need to make sure the nuts are chopped up very finely. Either do this by chopping them with a knife (keep going until they’re all incredibly small) or use a clean coffee grinder. The rest of the batter can be made in a bowl with a regular mixer.

Right away, I had to adapt because I was out of walnuts. Instead, all I had were a couple bags of slivered almonds. Almonds are always successful when added to a confection, so I had no problems substituting.

Almond Jam Cake
Courtesy of Gourmet

1 1/4 cups almonds (4 1/2 oz), toasted and cooled
2/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.

I used a springform pan for this, which made me really excited because I’m pretty sure this is only the second time I’ve actually had a small cake recipe that called for an 8″ pan. That may sound silly, but if you paid a lot of money for a set of three springform pans and ended up only needing one of them, you’d be excited when the most obscure one finally gets called up to bat, too.

Buttered & Floured 8inch Springform

I toasted my almonds in a frying pan. If I hadn’t been working with so many, I would have used my toaster oven, but the frying pan works, too. These were left on the stovetop for a few minutes on medium-low, until they began to release a slight fragrance when I stirred them, about 6 minutes.

Toasting Almonds

Pulse walnuts and sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

Walnuts & Sugar

Add butter and process until combined.

Adding Butter & Vanilla

Add eggs and vanilla and process until combined.

Adding Eggs

Add flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse just until incorporated. Spread batter in cake pan.

Almond Cake Batter

Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

Almond Cake - Baked

I apologize that I don’t have a lot of commentary on this process; it was fairly uneventful and went as expected. The only thing that was different was that I had to bake the cake a little longer that the recipe called for; my oven usually does that with everything, so I wasn’t surprised. Just test to make sure your cake is baked all the way through.

Almond Cake - Resting

Now for the topping:

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup apricot jam or preserves
2/3 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Stir lemon juice (if using) into jam. Spoon jam over cake. Beat heavy cream with sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until it holds soft peaks, then spoon over jam.

And here it is…

Almond Jam Cake

I liked this. It was nice and light, and the perfect finish to a light meal on a spring evening. The cake itself was only mildly sweet, so the jam on top was a nice compliment. Raspberry was the jam I used, and I think it was a little overpowering — my suggestion would be to spread a very thin layer of jam, then top with the whipped cream. The topping is what really brings it home. If you’ve got a little sweet tooth but don’t want anything heavy, this is the perfect finishing bite.

The Cookie Jar: Chocolate Shortbread Nuggets

For some reason, shortbread seems to be my Achilles Heel of baking. They never end up the way I expect. Maybe my experiences with shortbread are too tainted by store bought packages of the stuff, crispy and sweet, but very, very firm, due to the fact that they have to be packaged and sent all over the world for consumption. Still, whenever I sit down to make shortbread, I’ve always had a really rough time getting them to come out right, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because they require more steps and gentle care than I’m used to, compared to the rough and tumble (not to mention very forgiving) drop cookie dough. This is why, once again, I’ve turned to Carole Walter and her expertise.

Cookie bakers, if you have not yet gone out and purchased Carole’s book, you are missing out! Sure, everyone on the internet is talking about Dorie Greenspan – and I love her too. I have her raved-about dessert book, and she’s wonderful. But when it comes to cookies, Carole Walter is the woman in charge.

I’ve been known to make shortcuts when it comes to baking. I don’t often sift my dry ingredients, nor do I add eggs “one at a time” as instructed. Since I’ve failed a few times at shortbread, I followed instructions to the letter.


Photograph courtesy of Duane Winfield

Chocolate Shortbread Nuggets
adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1/2 cup rice flour, spooned in and leveled
1/2 cup strained Dutch-processed cocoa powder, spooned in and leveled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2/3 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sparkling white sugar
4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil

Position shelf in the center of the oven. Heat the oven to 300-degrees F. Cut a 15 inch square of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Invert a 9-inch square baking pan and center the foil over the pan, pressing it across the bottom and down the sides. Remove the foil, turn the pan right side up and place the foil shell in the pan, shaping it smoothly across the bottom and snugly against the sides.

This foil trick is one Carole uses with most of her recipes and it is handy. Funny how much this helps – wrangling a piece of foil into a square container is often a clumsy undertaking, but this ensures that your foil is formed perfectly and won’t mar the edges of your shortbread during the baking process.

Strain the flour, rice flour, cocoa and salt together three times. Set aside.

I really did do this straining part, and not only because I was paranoid that I was going to turn out another horrid batch of shortbread. In this case, I wanted to make sure the cocoa was sifted, because baking cocoa has a nasty habit of containing little lumps that don’t smooth out no matter how hard you mix – which brings me to the next reason I strained, and that’s because with this batter you cannot over mix, or you’ll ruin it. The little balls of hard stuff that couldn’t be strained through were tossed out. As an aside, I did not use a sifter for this. I used a hand held strainer that is used to strain seeds from jam and berries, etc. It worked like a charm, if you aren’t counting the part where I accidentally flung a bit of powder across the counter. Other than that, it was great.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (I only have a hand held with beaters and it was fine) and mix on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add sugar gradually, taking about 1 minute, then mix for 1 minute longer, scraping the side of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

I didn’t take pictures of this because you know what butter and sugar look like when mixed. Unless a vision of Jesus suddenly appears at the bottom of the bowl (and I hope not, because I’d like to think he’s got better gigs) then there’s really no reason to photograph that and stick it up here.

Transfer the mixture to a wide, wooden bowl for ease of mixing.

Okay, this was not something I did. Instead, I used my big, green bowl that you’ve seen a million times before, and it was large enough that I didn’t have to transfer anything. There’s nothing I hate more than using a million different bowls for no reason, when I can keep my messy dishes down to a minimum.

Using a wooden spoon, cut half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until it is almost incorporated. Work in the remaining dry ingredients by hand, adding in five or six additions.

Um okay, I did take another shortcut. I did mix all of this together by my hand held mixer, but not for very long. I added in two portions, then removed the mixer and did the rest with a wooden spoon.

Gently knead the mixture just until a smooth dough is formed. Be careful as to not overwork the dough, as this will result in a tough cookie.

Okay so as I said, I used my hand held mixer then used the spoon for the rest of it. I didn’t mix for very long at all, just enough to smoosh the dry ingredients into the rest of the dough – and that was just barely. As soon as the dry stuff was smooshed in with a single press to each dry area, I stopped touching it just in case.

Hopefully the above makes sense and, in context, it doesn’t sound like I’m some sort of sex offender.

Press the dough evenly into the pan, using a flat-bottomed glass wrapped in plastic. Be sure the dough is pushed into the corners. Test for evenness by inserting a toothpick or point of a knife randomly into the dough. Clean the sides of the pan by inserting the flat side of a metal scraper, small metal spatula, or plastic pastry corne in between the dough and the sides of the pan.

I didn’t have plastic, so I covered the pan with a piece of parchment paper, then I used a flat-bottomed glass to even everything out. To separate the edges from the foil, I used a knife. As much as I was worried about the dough being messy and fussy to separate from ungreased foil, it was actually fine. I had no problems.

Bake for 50 – 55 minutes (I used an 8×8 inch pan, so I baked mine for the full 55) or until set on top. Take out and let rest for 5 minutes. Using a dough scraper, cut straight down through the dough at about 1-inch intervals, making eight strips. Give the pan a quarter turn and cut four more strips at 2-inch intervals. (I was worried, so I followed this methodology to the letter, with success!) Sprinkle with the sparkling white sugar. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Have a cookie sheet without sides ready. Using the foil as an aid (aka the foil sling we’ve been talking about a lot lately), lift the shortbread from the pan and place it on the cookie sheet. Pull the aluminum foil so it releases from the sides of the shortbread, wrapping the larger sides of the foil under the pan to prevent it from sliding. Wrap loose edges of the foil around the sides of the cookie sheet, smoothing the foil as best as you can. Cut through the shortbread again, and using a spatula, spread them slightly apart.

Return to the oven for 10 more minutes to crisp and dry the cookies. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 – 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

For garnish, stir together the melted chocolate and vegetable oil. While the cookies are still tepid, dip each cookie into the chocolate mixture to a depth of 3/4 inch. Place on a cooling rack and allow to stand until the chocolate sets.

Here’s a shot of my mostly-uniform lovelies:


Okay, so you know I’m not great at Geometry; it’s a fact I have never hidden from you. I’m just thrilled I got the texture and taste right – next time I’ll work a little harder on making them perfect rectangles.

Store in an airtight container, layered between strips of wax paper, for up to 3 weeks. These cookies may be frozen.

The texture is light and crispy and a deep, dark chocolate flavor, much better than the stuff you get in the store. The chocolate taste is amazing and I’m very excited to be able to give these as gifts for the holiday season.

MoM Dec. ‘08 Cook’s Illustrated: Rocky Road Bark

I’m stunned. I mean to say that I am absolutely beside myself with the Rocky Road Bark from the December Magazine of the Month, Cook’s Illustrated 2008 Baking. Not only is it our MoM, but we also have a major AwK Advisory in effect.

and!

I looked at the recipe and thought it was a throwaway. Basically it’s one of those kid-friendly looking things where you just layer stuff in a pan, bake it and call it good.

But no. Oh no.

The bottom layer is graham crackers – which is what threw me off. I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of eating something that had graham crackers on the bottom, because I associate that with day care and being five-years old. As an adult, I now cannot stand graham crackers. They’re dry and tasteless and I’d like to think that my palette has evolved since then.

But the graham crackers do not stay in this state for long. After the graham crackers go down, salty caramel is made.

The ingredients to the caramel are butter, light brown sugar and salt – with the salt being the most important ingredient. The caramel that emerges is this outrageously delicious salty-sweet concoction that I couldn’t get enough of. After the sugar is mostly dissolved, I continued to stir it until it became slightly foamy, then I removed it from the heat.

This is spread over the graham crackers and baked in the oven.

While it bakes, the caramel starts to bubble, the rest of the sugar crystals dissolve. More importantly, the graham crackers start to absorb the moisture from the caramel, which is seeping through the cracks, coating the crackers on both sides. The graham crackers are transformed into a higher state of being.

Once the caramel comes out of the oven, it will cool, the bubbles will subside and the color of the salty caramel will be a dark amber.

Chocolate chips are sprinkled on top, warmed up in the oven, then spread over the caramel to make a chocolate layer.

You can sort of see the darkened caramel beneath the chocolate chips.

After the chocolate chips are spread over the top, nuts and miniature marshmallows are sprinkled on top, then pressed in to adhere.

I have to admit, I thought this bark was going to be completely stupid, but when I put it in my mouth, it was heavenly. The secret is the homemade salty caramel. You HAVE TO make this – find it on page 55 of our Dec. ’08 MoM. After it’s cooled a bit, it is cut up into pretty little 2-inch squares. These also went into my cookie boxes, and I have to say it’s probably my favorite thing that I’ve made this season. I will definitely be making it again.

The Cookie Jar: Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies

For my annual holiday baking, I tried out yet another cookie from epicurious.com’s holiday cookie list: Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies. I don’t really have a lot of “in process” pictures, so I’ll just give you some of my thoughts.

Here’s the official photo from Gourmet Magazine:

Beautiful. And the finished product from the home cook comes out looking just like it:

To get the uniformed look, I used a spring loaded melon ball scooper. Though they came out looking beautifully, I was disappointed with the taste: The cookie involves grinding up toasted hazelnuts in the food processor, which gives it a great texture, but the smoky flavor was off putting. I should have figured that before I made them, but I was looking to try something different. If you like the taste of smoky, toasted hazelnuts, then you’ll probably enjoy this very much. I did not. It still went into my holiday cookie boxes because the batter made so darn many of them, but they weren’t my favorite.

The cookie is pretty straight forward and difficult to screw up. I did put my dough into the refrigerator and left it overnight, but I just let it sit out for a couple of hours the next day, until it was easily scoopable – chilled and firm, yet easy to mold into a ball. The balls of dough were rolled through a heavy dosage of powdered sugar and then baked. As they baked, the cookie spread, giving it the “crinkled” look. I only wish the taste lived up to the look.

Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies
Courtesy of Gourmet

2/3 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet
chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioners sugar

Make dough:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan in oven until skins split and nuts are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven (turn oven off), then wrap hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub to remove any loose skins. Cool nuts completely. Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and chill 1 half, wrapped in plastic wrap. Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in confectioners sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.

Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.

While first batch is baking, roll remaining dough into balls. Line cooled cookie sheets with fresh parchment, then coat balls with confectioners sugar and bake in same manner.

The Cookie Jar: Poppy Seed Thumbprints

Out of my arsenal of cookie books, one I constantly reach for is by cookie diva herself and winner of a James Beard Award, Carole Walter.

This is basically your cookie bible. It’s got everything from drop cookies to shortbreads to international cookies, and all of them are wonderful. So far I’ve tried out half the book, and everything I’ve made so far is amazing. If you love baking cookies, then Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets is one to pick up. More than half of the book is designed for someone who is looking to take the next step up from your generic fuss-free drop cookies, so if you want to pick up some tips and strengthen your baking mettle, get this book. She’s got a lot of fun cookies that you’ll make again and again.

I’ve been mentioning how much I’ve been into fruit cookies lately. While flipping through the Great Cookies book, I ran across one that I’ve eyeballed a few times: Poppy Seed Thumbprints. I happened to have all the ingredients in my pantry, so I put this one to the test. The result: Success!


photo courtesy Duane Winfield

Poppy Seed Thumbprints
recipe adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter

2 cups all purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Raspberry Preserves
Apricot Preserves

Position shelves in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Heat the oven to 350-degrees F. Strain together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the poppy seeds and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium-low speed until smooth. Pour in the sugar and mix just until incorporated. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, mixing only until blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing just to combine after each addition. Note: Do not overmix this dough or it will become oily.

So this is where the trick comes in – forming them. The dough is not exactly hard to work with, but it’s not entirely soft and pliable, either. However you form them on the cookie sheet is how they will be shaped when they’re done baking.

Roll the dough into balls about the size of a walnut and place 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Using a wooden spoon with a rounded handle no wider than 1/2 inch, make a deep indentation with the tip of the handle in the center of each cookie. If the dough sticks, dip the tip in flour before pressing.

Be careful with this step and don’t jam your handle into the cookie all the way. This is where some of my cookies started to break apart. Go easy.


Slightly phallic, but you get the idea.

Hopefully you can see what I’m getting at with the picture above – some of the cookies cracked apart if I wasn’t careful while making my indentations. If you leave the cookie like that to bake, that’s how it will come out; the dough will not blend back together during baking, like what you would experience with a chocolate chip cookie dough.

Place the cookies in the oven. After 10 minutes, remove the cookies from the oven and re-press each indentation. Then fill the centers with preserves. To do this neatly (yeah she tells us how to do it neatly and I still goofed a couple of them up – go me) point the tip of the spoon down into the indentation and slide the preserves off with your fingertip. Do not overfill these or the preserves will run over.

Return cookies to the oven, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes longer or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Using a thin metal spatula, loosen the cookies from the pans as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Cool on wire racks.

I can’t get enough of these little things. If my mouth was big enough I’d pop them in whole to eat them in one bite. The poppy seed cookie with the sweet taste of jam inside is delicious. (Jam note: I used a sugar-free, seedless strawberry jam called Polamer’s that you can get in grocery stores.) These are going into my Christmas cookie boxes that my friends receive as holiday gifts… provided I can get them done before tomorrow afternoon. I know; I’m way behind! Yikes!