Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TWD - Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

aaaaaand we're back ..... miss me? Sorry folks, I just couldn't embrace the butterscotch pudding from last weeks TWD. Maybe at a later time ....

This week, we have Tall and Creamy Cheesecake which was chosen by Anne of AnneStrawberry . Yeah! I LOVE cheesecake! I made this recipe as is, no changes, no substitutions. Except for the pan. This recipe calls for 9-inch x 2 3/4-inch springform pan. Come on now. Seriously? I just bought a new springform pan for the Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake in October! I made a short and creamy cheesecake with a side of mini cheesecake! This what the twosome looked like at the end of the hour and half baking time.

Dorie's recipe instructs filling the pan all the way to the rim with filling. I only filled my pans about 3/4 full and look how tall they rose! I'm afraid that if I would have followed directions, I would have a had a huge mess! OK, now here's a question for the experienced cheesecakers ... why is that the recipe says the cake will be brown on top but Dorie's photo of her cheesecake is a beautiful white?
The cheesecakes were allowed to cool in the oven for an hour; at which time they looked like this.

I love how the big one isn't even cracked! I'm a perfectionist like that! I could barely stand waiting for these things cool! But wait I did! Dorie recommends chilling for 4 hours so I set my kitchen timer and got ready to dig in ... kidding ... I didn't really set the timer but I may have watched the clock like a hawk.

My graham cracker crumbs seemed a little wet. I'm not sure if I had some water intrusion beyond my foil wrapped pans. It tasted fine though. OK, who am I kidding? Can't you see how smooth and custardy that cake looks? That is exactly how it tasted! Smooth, light, melt in your mouth deliciousness. The best cheesecake I have ever tasted. Ever. My dear boyfriend had this to say. "I don't know how you do it! I must have been eating poop all of my life!" Hmmmmm ... I think there is a compliment in there somewhere? He also said that the cheesecakes he had previously consumed were really dense and he much preferred this one because of the fluff factor. I paraphrased that last part. :)

I wanted to try a couple different toppings. I started with strawberry.

I also had a slice with apple filling from my disasterous Christmas pie. The crust was so horrible that I scooped out the inside and have been using the filling to top ice cream and now my cheesecake! The apple topped slice was spectacular! I will make this cheesecake again and again! But first I have a date (or four) with the treadmill.

Thanks again Anne for choosing this great recipe. Be sure to check out the other TWD cheesecakers! You can find them here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TWD - Buttery Jam Cookies

This weeks cookie recipe was chose by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl chose Buttery Jam Cookies. The recipe can be found on page 80 of Baking: From my Home to Yours and on Heather's blog.
These cookies turned out cute but kind of bland. I used a flavorful mango fruit spread instead of jam and had high expectations for these little nibblers but they need a little sumpthin' sumpthin' to give them a little kick!
My favorite things about these cookies?

They're soft!!

They're cakey!

They're stackable!

Please check out the rest of TWD gang to see how they made out with these cookies.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TWD - Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

This week, Ulrike of Küchenlatein chose Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies, which can be found on pages 146-147 of Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours". Before I get started discussing these cookies, I wanted to take a few moments to ramble on about how great this cookbook is! I have learned so much from this book and from my fellow TWD bakers! Oh dear, now I'm all verklempt. Please, talk amongst yourselves.

Now about those sugar cookies ... I've said it in a least a half dozen posts ... I do not like hard cookies. All of the sugar cookies that I have known have been hard. With that in mind, I wasn't really excited about making these cookies BUT I had an agenda so I made them. Please take out your Winter 2008 Fancy Flours Catalog. I'll give you a minute to find it. Come on ... I know you have one. Turn to page 25 and check out the upper right hand corner. That snowflake cookie wreath is beautiful! I really wanted to make one so I forged ahead with the sugar cookies, including my first foray into royal icing.

The cookie dough was pretty crumbly but I was really afraid of over beating it. I roughly divided the dough in half and put each half into a gallon ziploc bag and gently kneaded it until it came together. Then I rolled it out (while it was still in the bag - a tip I learned from making the brown sugar shortbread) and refrigerated it for a few hours. Most of the times when I make cut out cookies, the dough spreads into an unrecognizable blob. This time around, after I cut out the shapes, I popped the baking sheet and the cookies back into the refrigerator so they could chill out for another half hour or so (a tip from the linzer sables). It worked like a charm, my cookies came out beautifully!

The royal icing was not a fun adventure. I wanted to get it to "pouring" consistency, but no matter how much water I added, I couldn't do it. It took me hours to frost these cookies but I think the end result was worth it .... and if anyone has any royal icing tips to share, please do!
Here is my take on the Fancy Flours Cookie Wreath which you can see HERE.

I took the wreath to work and left it out for my coworkers. Apparently, they were quite good! After being admonished several times and told that the cookies were NOT HARD, I decided to try one for myself. Except, that by the time I made it back to the kitchen, then entire wreath was gone. Seriously, in less than a half an hour! Gone. Luckily I had a few stashed at home and I found them to be soft and delicious. Like buttah ...

As always, please check out the rest of the TWD Bakers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

TWD - Linzer Sables

This weeks Tuesdays with Dori recipe is Linzer Sables and was chosen by noskos of Living the Life. I halved the recipe, substituted ground hazelnuts, and filled them with chocolate ganache. I was super excited about this flavor combination but found that the hazelnuts completely overpowered the cookies! I used my snowflake cookie cutter to shape them but sadly they still look like flowers. The cookies may have been rolled a little too thin and they were crispier than I like. Overall, I thought these were OK and I would like to try them again using ground almonds.
Don't forget to check out the rest of the TWD gang to see how they made out with these cookies.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

TWD - Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

This weeks recipe was chosen by Vibi from La Casserole Carrée. Once again, I made something that, when left to my own devices, would not have tried! Thanks Vibi! The "Twofer Pie" is basically a pumpkin pie with pecan pie layered on top. I had problems with this recipe right from the beginning. I put flour in my food processor for a single pie crust and then promptly added the rest of the ingredients as listed for a double pie crust. I didn't want to trash a couple cups flour (King Arthur flour is $4.19 a bag in my neck of the woods!) so I added enough flour for the double crust and away I went ...... until my dough refused to come together in the food processor. I ended up finishing the dough with my hands but I was very worried that the results would be less than flaky. I pre-baked the pie crust as directed and ended up with this.

Shrinkage. I decided to go another route with the remaining pie dough. I cut the dough to fit my regular sized muffin pans and ended up with 12 crusts! I pre-baked 6 of them to use for mini Lemon Meringue pies and used the remaining 6 for mini Twofer Pies. This time around, I did not pre-bake the crust. Here they are fresh out of the oven.

The next time around (and there WILL be a next time because these were fabulous), I will more generously butter the muffin tin, including the top! These buggers were sticky!

In general, I'm a pie purist and didn't think I would care for pecan and pumpkin pie sharing the same space, but once again, I was surprised and delighted with the outcome! The pumpkin portion was perfectly cooked and the pecans added a wonderful flavor and crunch! Although I was worried about the crust, it turned out just fine! You can see a little bit of the flakiness in this photo.

As for the lemon meringue pies, they turned out ok. The filling was more tart that I would have liked and the meringue was kind of marshmallowy but overall, very tasty!

I think I may make mini pies like this from now on. It is very easy to please everyone this way and they are super cute and fun to make!

One more thing .... this recipe does not use an entire can of pumpkin. I refuse to throw it away. I won't do it. So say hello to my pumpkin mousse!! I added a little sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the pumpkin and folded it into about a cup of whipped cream.

Please check out the rest of the TWD bakers to see what they cooked up!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

TWD - Arborio Rice Pudding

Isabelle of Les gourmandises d’Isa chose "Arborio Rice Pudding, White, Black (Or Both)", for this weeks TWD selection. For the third consecutive week I'm wandering about in unknown culinary territory! I have never cooked rice pudding or any kind of pudding for that matter. Truth be told, when I saw how much money the arborio rice was going to set me back, I almost scrapped the whole project! I managed to muddle through the recipe and produce an OK pudding (I think)!

I made both the vanilla and a chocolate version but thought that both tasted rather bland. These days chocolate pudding makes me think of Dexter, my latest unhealthy obsession! Rita in the kitchen, stirring, stirring, stirring, that chocolate pudding. Seriously people, this is good TV!

On another tangent, this was the view of my backyard on Sunday.

and on the front porch. There is nothing like the first snow of the season to make you go "blech"!

Sunday was pudding cooking day and coincidentally, Dexter watching night! So I decided to go all "winter themed" on my pudding. I decorated my little bowl of chocolate pudding with a white chocolate snowflake and my little cup of chocolate pudding with some crushed candy cane. I added a little bit of the caramel apple jam and a sprinkle of cinnamon to the vanilla pudding. The last one being my favorite! I think I had more fun styling my food than cooking or eating it!

Check out the rest of the TWD Bakers and see what they cooked up! And watch Dexter! Do it! Do it now! :)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Black Hole Chocolate Cake

I think I can.... I think I can..... I will conquer the layer cake. This attempt was called Black Hole Chocolate Cake and I found the recipe at http://www.cdkitchen.com/. I had high hopes for this one since after baking, the layers were very dense. I had a few problems though ....

1. A buttercream concoction was to serve as the filling and used to frost the sides of the cake. Now I know how to make buttercream. I really do. So when the recipe instructed that melted, uncooled chocolate, butter, powdered sugar, and cream be combined; I knew I wouldn't get "light and fluffy". None the less, I followed the directions, and ended up with a tasting filling but not enough frosting. I looks ok though.

2. Nothing good can come of pouring a hot glaze over a cake. Nothing. Nothing but a disaster. Again, I'm no stranger to the kitchen, so I let the glaze cool but not nearly enough. I should have been darn near room temperature. On the plus side, this was the best tasting glaze I've ever had and I think I'll keep it!

3. This cake did not taste good. The cake layers were very dry and the filling was "meh" but not spectacular. My coworkers ate it but my official taste tester dumped it into the garbage after a couple bites (as did I - after I licked the glaze off the top).

So it's back to the layer cake drawing board.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TWD - Kugelhopf

This weeks TWD selection comes from Yolanda of The All-Purpose Girl and she chose the Kugelhopf on pages 61-63. As I scanned the ingredients list my very first thought was "yeast? Ummm ... no can do." Yeast is not my friend. As a matter fact, I would even go so far to say that yeast is my Kitchen Kryptonite and quite frankly, I think the yeast is in cahoots with the layer cake and they are determined to drive me from the kitchen. I put away my copy of "Baking: From My Home to Yours" and walked away. I'll just catch up with the TWD folks next week.

Fortunately (or not), I cannot resist a challenge, so by Friday afternoon I was back in the kitchen ready to go. I started on Saturday morning but by Saturday afternoon I couldn't get even one single rise out of that doughy mess in my bowl. I reread the recipe, googled, and tried again. The second time around, I started by using my thermometer to make sure the milk was the proper temperature and I proofed the yeast to make sure it was still fresh. Everything checked out A-OK and I actually got the bugger to rise this time. As directed I put it in the refrigerator and got two more rises out of the dough. I let it rest overnight but when I took it out Sunday morning, the dough was very stiff and went into my bundt pan in three separate pieces.

Much to my surprise and delight, the dough rose in the pan!

The portion of the dough that is visible in the top right of the above picture was kind of deformed and even during baking that part of the dough didn't rise. None the less, I could smell victory over the yeast! I can assure that the sweet scent victory made my house smell fabulous when my kugelhopf was baking. I couldn't wait to dig in to this baby! Seriously, I was salivating - I love the smell of baking bread.

Following the rest of the directions, I brushed the kugelhopf with melted butter, sprinkled it with sugar, dusted with confectioners sugar, and ate it the same day. Just kidding, I only ate half of it on Sunday. Seriously, it was that good. Nearly half.

In the cookbook, Dorie warns that this cake is best eaten the same day that it is prepared or else it will go stale. She suggests that stale slices of kugelhopf should be toasted and served with jam. Really? Stale bread makes me think of french toast. Mmmmmm ..... french toast. So I cut up the remaining quarter, I mean half, of my kugelhopf, and made french toast Monday morning. Seriously. To the untrained eye, it would appear that my french toast is covered in giant pats of butter, but you know what they say - the camera adds ten pounds. Seriously. I would never eat that much butter on tiny pieces of bread. That would be wrong.

So, at the end of the day I would definitely make this recipe again. The kugelhopf tasted fantastic and I am so glad that I tried it. Now that I conquered the yeast, bring on the layer cakes! Seriously, check back tomorrow because I made a chocolate cake. Don't forget to check out the other TWD bakers!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

TWD - Rugelach

I was super excited to see that Piggy of Piggy’s Cooking Journal chose rugelach for this weeks TWD baking adventure. I have never eaten rugelach and I had certainly never baked rugelach! After carefully reading through the recipe I realized two things. The first realization was that my grandmother made something similar to this with leftover pie crust! She would roll out the scraps, brush the dough with melted butter, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, cut into triangles, roll, and bake. Yum, yum, yum! The second realization was that this recipe contained both fruit and chocolate. As discussed in the Chocolate Chunker post, I do not care for fruit mixing it up chocolate!

I decided to make half the batch with the recipe more or less as written (I didn't use currants because I didn't have any) and I found that I didn't really care for apricot preserves with the mini semi-sweet chocolate chips that I used. My official taste tester didn't really like them either so I took them to the office and unloaded them on my co-workers.

My second batch was entirely different story ... mmm mmm good. I loved them so much that I refused to take them to work and share with my co-workers! It is my intention to consume each and every one of them by myself!

I substituted the apricot jam with caramel apple jam, skipped the chocolate and currants, and used pecans. I made the jam myself using this recipe. The jam was overally sweet and didn't taste very "caramelly" but it was really good! I've sinced used it on an english muffin and as a topping for ice cream. I'm going to mess around with the jam recipe and try to develop a stronger caramel flavor. I am totally in love with the apple rugelach and will surely make more as soon as I finish eating this batch.

In the following photo, you can see the tiny chunks of apple peeking out of the dough.

In my excitement, I forgot to brush the cookies with the egg wash and sprinkle them with coarse sugar prior to baking but I still think they turned out great! Please check out the other TWD bakers to see all the other amazing twists on rugelach.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TWD - Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes

This week, Clara of I Heart Food4Thought chose Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes .... wait ... is that too much chocolate? Nope! No such thing! Actually, these chocolate cupcakes weren't too chocolaty at all. They were wonderfully flavored and the ganache frosting was a to die for! The only problem I had with these little gems is that they were a little on the dry side.

I had decided to take these chocolate cupcakes to work for a birthday celebration so I made a double batch and ended up with 24 regular sized cupcakes and 10 minis. The cuppy's looked beautiful when they came out of the oven; perfectly done with nice flat tops right at the top of the liner.

I made the ganache and quickly became concerned. Is this it? Is this all the frosting I get for all of these cupcakes? I rechecked the recipe and went over the steps in my head. I had definitely doubled it so it must be right so I began frosting away. Typically, I prefer my cupcakes topped with a big giant mound of scrumptious frosting, however, this ganache was so rich and decadent, a little went a long way.

The minis had a greater frosting to cupcake ratio and they instantly became my favorites!

These are the perfect grown up cupcakes served just the way they are but with Halloween just around the corner, I couldn't resist playing around with some spooky decorations. I wanted to keep it simple and non-cutesy so I chose the spider web route. I used melted white candy melts in a squeeze bottle and hand drew spider webs on wax paper. When they hardened I attached the webs to the cupcakes with a little dot of melted candy. At first, I was a little disappointed that the webs looked so messy, but then I realized that they were supposed to be spiderwebs and I needed to get over it!

Overall, these were great little cakes and I would definitely make them again using some of the "added moistness" tips I picked up the from the TWD folks. Thanks for choosing a super recipe Clara!

My six year old son asked to try one of the mini cupcakes. He took one bite and looked a little puzzled. He asked me "What flavor are these?" I told him chocolate. He then "accidentally" dropped it on the floor. I tried to initiate the 3 second rule but he was having none of it and the entire thing ended up in the trash.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TWD - Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin Muffins! As my boy likes to say ... "Yay! Hooray!" I love all things pumpkin and was so excited to see this week's "Tuesdays with Dorie" recipe was chosen by Kelly of Sounding My Barbaric Gulp. I began by roasting some pumpkin that I picked up at the pumpkin patch, but unfortunately, at the end of the cooking process my fresh pumpkin was dry and stringy and I had to start the process over with a new pumpkin.

As luck would have it, I was caught in the act of butchery by my seven year old son, who shreaked "What are you DOING to my pumpkin?" To which I replied, "I'm going to EAT it." He was not happy with this response and eventually left the kitchen sulking. My second attempt, yielded a tender, tasty pumpkin, suitable for baking with!

I followed Dorie's recipe pretty closely, except that I omitted the nuts, raisins, and sunflower seeds ... ok maybe, it wasn't so "close"! I used dates instead of raisins and subbed fresh roasted pumpkin seeds for the sunflower seeds. These muffins are fabulous! So fabulous in fact, I'm getting ready to make another batch!

Bake another batch after my son goes to bed that is! No need to further traumatize the youngster by consuming his precious pumpkin!

Thanks again for a great recipe selection! Don't forget to see what the other TWD bakers are up to this week!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

TWD - Lenox Almond Biscotti

Lenox Almond Biscotti was chosen by Gretchen of Canela & Comino for this weeks Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. We'll start with a confession of sorts - I have never baked biscotti! Sad, but true and it sounded easy enough so I thought I'd give it a whirl. On the heals of this confession I need to post a WARNING .... the following photos are quite graphic and may be unsuitable for viewing by experienced biscotti bakers. Consider yourselves warned and continue reading .... if you dare!

Since I was biscotti newbie, I followed the recipe (ok, I followed the ingredient list) exactly as written. When it came time to form the cookies for the first baking, I deviated from the written instructions and I made two short loaves instead of two long loaves.

After the first baking, this was the result ..... please avert your eyes if you have delicate sensibilities.

Wow! They spread out A LOT more than I anticipated! My first instinct was to throw them away and start over but after careful consideration, I decided to forge on and see what would happen. These cookies were SLIM and experienced quite a bit of breakage when I sliced them and stood them up on the cookie sheet. I'm not sure what Dorie meant by standing them up "like a marching band" so this what they looked like before they went into the oven for a second baking.

I like the rustic look of my cookies! I had a hard time getting them to stand at first but I found that if I sliced the cookie, left the knife in place, and lightly pressed the slice against the knife, I had one fairly flat edge to stand the biscotti on. Here is the final result.

Not too bad looking and they tasted awesome! Now for confession #2 ... my coworkers are usually the beneficiaries of my baking forays but I only shared these gems with a few close friends! I ate a few (ok, perhaps many) and gave the rest to my official taste tester because he really really enjoyed eating them! I also dipped half of these in bittersweet chocolate but they disappeared before I was able to photograph them!

Thanks for choosing a great recipe Gretchen! Don't forget to check out the other TWD Bakers!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

TWD - Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake

This weeks recipe for Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake was chosen by Tammy of Wee Treats by Tammy. I decided to make this cake for a coworkers birthday but the first problem I ran into was the springform pan - I had a 6" pan; I could only find a 9" pan in the stores, and the recipe called for a 8" pan. I opted to go with the 9" pan but rather than fool with the recipe and perform complex mathematical operations in order to get a cake of the proper thickness, I followed the directions as is.

The cake turned out fine except that it sank A LOT in the middle! When I looked at it after cooling, I was afraid that the center portion of the cake would be paper thin but that was not the case. The caramel topping gave me a little bit of trouble as it took 15-20 minutes to reach a deep amber color but my patience paid off and it was delicious! Because of the larger diameter of the cake, I ended up using more peanuts and almost all of the caramel. In order to get full peanut coverage, I put the peanuts on the cake first and then poured the caramel over the top of everything.

This cake was a huge hit at the office and I will definitely be making it again. As a matter of fact, I later found 8" springform pans at JC Penney of all places! Check out the other TWD bakers here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

My son likes chocolate chip cookies. Not peanut butter. Not oatmeal. Chocolate chip and only chocolate chip. No substitutions please. I wanted to make some cookies for him to take on an outing with a friend but I didn't have a "to die for" chocolate chip cookie recipe. Yes, six year old children need "to die for" cookies. For real.

I decided on Alton Brown's "The Chewy" and guess what .... they were not "to die for", but they were pretty darn tasty! This recipe intrigued me because a.) it calls for melted butter and I never have softened butter when I really need it, b.) it calls for kosher salt, and c.) it's a chewy cookie. The cookies turned out nice and soft but not really "chewy" per se. I followed the recipe pretty closely except that I used milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet and I made small cookies instead of large ones. All in all, these cookies are a keeper!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TWD - Recipe "Rewind"

Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake chose Creme Brulee for this weeks TWD recipe. Now, while I am a huge fan of Creme Brulee, I am not huge fan of the process of making one. Quite frankly, I'm scared and a little bit intimidated. So when given the option to chose a previous TWD recipe to make, I picked the very first recipe - Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread.

I decided that since I had some chopped hazelnuts laying around, I would use those instead of pecans and I substituted cinnamon for the cloves. I followed the instructions darn near to the "T" and all was going quite well. The shortbread looked beautiful on the cookie sheets and during the first few minutes of baking I was indulging in fantasies of dipping the finished cookies in chocolate and pouring another cup of coffee. The kitchen timer jolted me out of fantasy land and reality slapped me in the face when I opened the oven door.

I must have rolled the cookies too thin because they melted into one huge monster cookie that had neither the taste nor texture of shortbread. Bummer.

Oh well, better luck next week! Please check out the other TWD bakers here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TWD Dimply Plum Cake

Or in my case ... Dimply Peach Cake! I'm not a huge fan of the cooked plum, or the dried plum for that matter so I chose the peach variation instead. You can check out what the other TWD bakers created at the Tuesdays with Dorie Blog.

I found some fabulous looking peaches at the farmers market on Saturday.

They even looked pretty halved and pitted and ready to go into the cake batter.

Unfortunately, they were the sourest peaches I've ever tasted! The cake portion of the dessert was absolutely fabulous though. As recommended in the cookbook, I added a little bit of fresh basil the cake mixture, and although I never would have done this on my own, it was a great flavor complement to the peaches! The cake tested done after 45 minutes in the oven but when I removed it from the pan, it fell to pieces. The plum cake is photographed for the cookbook with some whipped cream and I decided to do the same with my plum cake. I whipped up (a little too stiffly) some heavy cream with a touch of almond extract. This was the end result ....

OK, so a food stylist I am not! I guess I'll keep my day job! I was a really good cake though!

I am thinking about trying this again with mangoes. Mmmmmm mangoes...