Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday's with Dorie: Crème Brûlée

Have you seen the movie “The Women”? There's a scene in the movie that is so funny. A distraught Meg Ryan rushes into the kitchen and starts rummaging through the cupboards and refrigerator demanding to know where the junk food is. When the housekeeper reminds her that she doesn’t allow it, Meg grabs a stick of butter, a can of cocoa powder, and a cup of sugar. She then proceeds to dip the butter in the cocoa and then the sugar and then she chomps on the butter-stick concoction.

Kind of reminds me of this week’s Tuesday’s with Dorie, pick, Crème Brûlée (chosen by Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake).

As I watched that scene of the movie, I was thinking the butter-stick creation might have potential. After all, we only have to taste the creme brûlée to realize that it doesn’t take a long list of ingredients to turn out a fantastic dessert. Amazing really. Creme brûlée is basically cream, eggs, and sugar. Maybe a little extra flavor in the way of vanilla, cinnamon, ginger... but they aren’t required.

I made the crème brûlée twice. First was the basic recipe, flavored only with vanilla. It was very easy; maybe the easiest recipe I’ve made for Tuesday’s with Dorie. The challenging part came with the “brûlée”, which is the thin layer of caramelized sugar that, to me, sets this dessert apart. Serious brulee makers and restaurants have a hand-held torch of some sort at their disposal for caramelizing the sugar. The rest of us have to make do with the broiler.

The broiler worked fairly well. Not perfect, but it was worth it because the crème brûlée was SO delicious.

Both times I used a pan filled with ice cubes to set the bowls in.

The first time, I used shallow bowls like in the book, with the oven rack in the second highest position. I’d say the heating element was about 5 inches from the bowls. That didn’t work so well. It took a good five minutes and still the sugar wasn’t exactly caramelized, more like browned and crunchy. See...

Plus, not only was the crème melted, but my ice bath was melted as well. I lost a brulee when water sloshed over the top of one bowl. BUT, I stuck the surviving brulees in the fridge until they were well chilled. The crème had firmed back up and they still tasted scrumptious.

The second time I made a ginger-infused crème brûlée with a touch of lime. That time, I used ramekins instead so I would have less surface area exposed to the heat and so hopefully less melting of the crème. I also put the oven rack in the top position so the bowls were about 2 inches from the heating element (pictured above). That time it only took maybe a minute for them to start caramelizing. It still wasn’t a solid piece of caramelized sugar on top, but closer than the first attempt. Again, the crème was melty, but a stint in the fridge solved that.

Here are the brulees ready for the oven...

And just baked...

Sprinkled with a layer of sugar, ready for the broiler...

Just for fun, I made candied lime. I thought they tasted terrible, by the way. Very bitter. But they were cute as a garnish. I will post the method for making the candied lime later in the week.
OK, thanks for stopping by. Please see Mari's blog for the recipe, or check out Dorie Greenspan's book, "Baking, From my Home to Yours".

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers: Lavash Crackers

I think that the “Daring Bakers Challenge” is a perfect name for the, well... Daring Bakers Challenge. The name says it all.

Daring” is for those recipes that strike fear in your heart. The ones you can never imagine yourself pulling off successfully.

Bakers”, well, you know, it's about baking.

Challenge” has a lot of connotations. Maybe you live just about a mile down the road from nowhere and it’s a challenge locating all of the ingredients. Maybe it’s a two-day baking marathon that involves many components and many methods. Maybe it’s a recipe that makes you groan when you see it because you a) don’t like it, b) could care less, or c) you’ve made it a thousand times already, or whatever.

I tended toward the “challenge” part this month. When I saw that the recipe was Lavash Crackers I couldn’t have been less excited. Crackers? Are you kidding? I couldn’t think of a single reason why I’d want to make homemade crackers. And we were to make a vegan and gluten free dip to boot. *groan*

I don’t mean to upset the hosts, it’s just not my cup of tea. When I think of “baking”, savory foods don't come to mind. But then I smacked myself (figuratively) across the face, told myself to stop being a crank, and figure out how to make it fun.

Once I got past my mental block, the idea for “animal crackers” popped into my head right away. How cute would that be? Very! So then, what dip… well, that didn’t take long either. Hubby and I both adore hummus, so hummus it was. I’d always wanted to find a good homemade recipe. I figured I might as well turn this into a “find an awesome hummus recipe” challenge.

To my surprise, I had a blast making the crackers. I dumped out my “100 Piece Cookie Cutter Set” (which I know serious cookie folks probably laugh at, but I’ve used so many times since I bought it 150 years ago), dug around for the animals and went to town.

The risen dough, which is made from flour, water, salt, a little sweetener, and a little oil, is first pressed into a rectangle, then rolled out thinly.

I think I should have rolled the dough a tad thinner to make it more of a true Lavash cracker. From what I read on Wikipedia, these Armenian crackers are soft when fresh (like a tortilla), but they dry quickly and become brittle and hard. Mine were still somewhat soft in the middle.

I got busy with the cutters (my sons contribution was the lone tennis racket, lol). Once finished, I cut lines between the shapes to make the baked crackers easier to handle. I thought it looked like some kind of whacky edible puzzle!

We were welcome to coat the crackers with any type of spice before baking, such as poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and the like. I used kosher salt.

To free the baked animals, I used my (food-only) exacto knife, but then figured out it was easier to simply pull and pry the excess cracker shards away by hand.

A sampling of my cracker menagerie...

I had to quickly take a few shots of the whole kit and kaboodle since hubby was taking this to a football get-together. I'm not sure how one makes hummus look appealing, but here it is...

So there you go! Another great challenge, thanks to this month's hosts Shel from Musings from the Fishbowl and Natalie from Gluten a Go Go. You can find the cracker recipe on Shel's blog. Please stop by the other Daring Baker's sites to see their lovely crackers.


I started with a recipe and added a little of this and a little of that until it tasted like I wanted.

1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved
1-2 garlic cloves
4 Tbsp. olive oil
4-5 tsp. tahini (found in the Mediterranean section at the grocers)
juice from 1 lemon
1/4 tsp salt
2 T. reserved chickpea liquid

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Except for the chickpeas, don't add the entire amount of the other ingredients initially. Hold back part of them, so you can add more if desired. Blend until smooth. Add more chickpea liquid if necessary to attain desired consistency.

My hubby likes olive oil drizzled on the plated hummus before serving.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Peanut Butter Cookies

I've learned a thing or two over the years about bringing treats to my kid's school parties. Number one is that the amount of hours you spend slaving over some confectionary masterpiece bears no relation to how quickly it will be gobbled up by the little imps. My first eye-opening experience was my oldest son's kindergarten Halloween party, when I took decorated sugar cookies. They were adorable (if I do say so myself). Six different designs, all painstakingly outlined and filled with a modified royal icing. I even hand-cut the Frankenstein cookies, since I didn't own the cutter. Probably half a dozen colors of icing had to be mixed.

As I watched the children dig into their party plates, I was baffled when they not only didn't praise the heavens above for being blessed with the beautiful treats that were my cookies, but many kids didn't even touch them! No, they were too busy munching on rice krispy treats and store-bought chocolate chip cookies. Ouch!

Since then, I've stopped trying to impress the kids with beautifully decorated snacks. I've come to realize that you can't go wrong with either brownies, chocolate chip cookies, or cupcakes decorated with lots of fluffy, colorful icing.

I broke my own rule-of-thumb with these peanut butter cookies. They were for a Grandparents Dessert that was held at my son's school. I didn't have any chocolate chips left, but I figured the gramps and grannies would like these cookies, at least.

This is my grandma's recipe and they were my grandpa's favorite cookie. He liked them crunchy for dipping in his coffee. I like them soft. Either way, they are delicious.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 C. butter
1/2 C. peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C. brown sugar, packed
1-1/2 C. all-purpose flour

Cream butter and peanut butter. Add sugars, egg, and vanilla and beat until well mixed. Add flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix just until blended.

Roll into small balls, press tops with a fork dipped in sugar.

Bake 13 minutes at 350 degrees farenheit for soft cookies, or 20 minutes for crunchy cookies.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TWD: Dimply Plum Cake

I guess it was bound to happen... a Tuesday's with Dorie recipe that didn't bowl me over. It might have been my efforts to down-size the Dimply Plum Cake that was it's downfall. It might have been the cardomom.

Cardomom is one of those weird spices for me. Whenever I first taste a recipe with cardomom, I'm in love with it, but then quickly.... I don't know... I can't handle it for some reason. Like maybe my tastebuds aren't sophisticated enough. It's strange. I can't explain it exactly.

I quartered the recipe and baked it in a 4-inch round pan.

I made the mistake of not halving the plum and smooshing it into the top, like we were supposed to. Rather, I cut it into slices and fanned them around the top. I think it would have benefited from more plum to add some flavor to the cake. That's what I get for trying to be fancy.

Another thing... and I thought it was just that I used such a small pan, but then I saw other TWD-ers mention the same thing. I had to bake it a long time to get the center done, but then I thought the sides wer over-baked and dry.

I won't write this recipe off completely. If I were to make this again, I would bake a larger cake, use halved peaches and trade the cardomom for cinnamon. I think that version would be a winner.

Thanks so much to Michelle of Bake-en for hosting this week! Please see Michelle's blog for the recipe, or check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking: From My Home to Yours".

OK, that's all for now. Stay tuned for next week when we make (drum roll please) Creme Brulee!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Aaaw, I got some Awards!

I am overdue in thanking several people for awards they've bestowed on this blog. I am honored and truly appreciate them.

Thanks go out first to Michelle from "Something New is Cooking". She has given me the "Just Nice Photos - Beautiful Site" and "2008 Best Blog Darts Thinker" awards (these came as a sort of package deal). I love how Michelle's family and friends play a prominent part in her blog. Thank you, Michelle!

Secondly, Michele from Alwayz Bakin', has given me the "I love you this much" award. Michele has the cutest site and is an accomplished baker and cake decorator. She is also going back to school, which takes a lot of hard work and guts. Good luck and many thanks, Michele!!

Lastly, Matt of Matt's Kitchen has given me the "E for Excellent" award. Matt always prepares such delicious-sounding dishes. I really admire his way with words and how he always has something interesting to say. Thank you very much, Matt!

In turn, I am going to give the awards out to a few people. I believe you're supposed to acknowledge the person who gave you the award, and then pass it along to a certain number of people, but I, being somewhat of a rule-breaker, am giving each to one person. I think it takes away from the spirit of awards if too many rules are attached. I say, if you think one person or 25 people deserve the award... go for it!

Vera, at Baking Obsession, has the most beautifully photographed and fantabulous sounding desserts. (If you're ever looking for recipe tester, Vera, please call me!) I am giving her the "E is for Excellent" award.

Sharon, at SugarEd Lagniappe, is a dear friend and extremely talented and creative cake decorator. If you look up the word "perfection" in the dictionary, you will find her picture alongside. I am giving her the "I Love You This Much" award.

I am going to give the first two awards out separately, since that's how they were originally (see below for some random blabbing by me on that subject).

Chocolatechic has a knack for documenting her baking progress with beautiful photos and witty discussion. She always manages to make me chuckle. I am giving her the "Beautiful Site" award.

Barbara, of Bungalow Barbara, is a knowledgeable baker who took the time to share many great pie-baking tips with me following my cherry pie crisis. I am giving her the... OK, I'm just going to call it the Darts award (the first one).

Now for the random blabbing... those of you with more meaningful things to do are now excused, lol.

Do you ever wonder where these awards come from? I do.

Out of curiousity, I tried to trace the first set of awards back to it's origin and became hopelessly lost traveling the side streets and back alleys of the blog world. For some time I found myself navigating my way through Indian food related blogs. Somewhere along the line, it appears that these two awards were originally separate but were then combined.

I believe the first one started out as the "Premio Dardos (Darts Award)" but now has the title "Best Blog Darts Thinker" award. I have to assume something has been lost (or added, as the case may be) in the translation, lol. Tracing it back, I made it to a site that looked like it was a cross-roads to Brazillian, Spanish-written blogs. That blog's author had translated the award's intent and came up with "This award is for bloggers who distinguish themselves for showing cultural values, ethics, great and fun writing skills, as well individual values, through their creative writing". There was also a set of rules that included sending it along to 15 people! No wonder this award has been so prolific and hard to trace to its origins.

I'm curious, what are your thoughts on blog awards? do you follow the rules attached to them? do you post them in your sidebar, and why? Do you chose not the post them, and why?

OK, until next time... night, night!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cookie Carnival: Pink Grapefruit Sandwich Cookies

A long time ago, I asked my mom what she thought about Marilyn Monroe, back in the day. I don’t recall what she said exactly, but I do remember her saying that Marilyn was one of those people everyone had an opinion about. Some loved her, some hated her, and some were in between, but everyone had something to say about her.

One of those “everybody has an opinion about her” types from this era is Martha Stewart. Personally, I admire her. Now, I’m not so sure whether I would like her very well, if we met. It’s hard to say. She seems like a fairly serious person. I tend to gravitate more toward the easy-going types, so I don’t know if Martha and I would click.

But I do admire her. I mean, how many people build an empire starting out with a catering business? How many company heads can make a wedding cake? And I liked how she just went to prison and got it over with… heck, she made prison seem like a vacation.

I get a kick out of watching her show. Only because she seems to struggle sometimes between having to chat up the guests and actually trying to accomplish something. I get the feeling she really wants to accomplish the task, but the pesky guests keep getting in the way.

Take the video for this month’s Cookie Carnival recipe, Pink Grapefruit Sandwich Cookies, for example. Her guest is clearly not a cookie-maker and I chuckled watching Martha getting those cookies made, come hell or high water.

My version of the cookies were subtly grapefruit-flavored, and oh so yummy. I rolled them a tad thicker than called for (me not reading instructions properly is emerging as a common theme around here). My cookies had more heft than I imagine they were supposed to. Next time I will try to roll them thinner. I didn’t bake them as long as called for in the recipe, either…I like my cookies soft. And, with sugar-type cookies I prefer to keep them creamy white with no visible browning. I bake them just until they’re set. In this case, around 10-12 minutes. I did bake one batch longer just to see what they were like.

We were supposed to roll them 1/8" thick... um, yea, this is not 1/8" thick, lol.

I cheated and piped my icing on. I knew they would look like poo if I used a spatula.

Thanks so much to Kate of The Clean Plate Club for hosting Cookie Carnival and choosing this delicious little treat. I will be making them again, no doubt.

Pink Grapefruit Sandwich Cookies
(Recipe courtesy Martha Stewart’s website)

You can bake the cookies and make the filling a day ahead.

Ingredients for cookies

Makes 15 sandwich cookies.
* Grated zest of 1 Ruby Red grapefruit, plus 1/4 cup freshly squeezed juice
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
* 3/4 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
* 2 large egg yolks
* Pink Grapefruit Cream Filling


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a small bowl, combine zest with 1 tablespoon sugar; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and remaining sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add egg yolks, and beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in reserved zest-sugar mixture. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the juice, and beat to combine.

3. Turn out dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, and shape into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out disk to 1/8 inch thick using a lightly floured rolling pin. Using a lightly floured 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds and place about 1 inch apart on prepared sheet. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until edges are golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes. Transfer parchment paper and cookies to rack to cool completely.

5. Using an offset spatula, spread 1 tablespoon filling onto flat sides of half the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, keeping flat sides down. Once filled, cookies can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Ingredients for filling

Makes enough to fill 15 sandwich cookies.

* 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
* 2 cups confectioners' sugar
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed Ruby Red grapefruit juice
(I added a drop of red food coloring)


1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in honey. Add juice, 1tablespoon at a time, until filling holds together and is smooth and creamy, about 2minutes. Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and set aside until ready to use.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Chunkers

I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to post this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Chocolate Chunkers. I was going to get my post ready last night, but then we had our own little version of Hurricane Ike yesterday and our internet went down. I’m not complaining one tiny bit though, we could have been among the 800,000 homes in the area reported to be without power, or have trees down, shingles torn up, or a yard full of debris.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that we’re in OHIO?!? Can you believe that? Hurricane Ike in Ohio!? I read in the news that only 4 out of Ohio's 88 counties didn't have any damage. But still, its nothing compared to those down South.

Please say some prayers for those along the Gulf Coast affected by Ike. How horrible this is for them. I feel badly posting about cookies when so many have been uprooted and their homes destroyed.

Dorie Greenspan says in her description of the Chocolate Chunkers that she was inspired by Maida Haetter’s Mulattoes cookies. Of course, I had to make the Mulattoes too, being the overachiever that I am.

Here's a chocolate chunker...

and a mulattoe.

Needless to say, I’m a little chocolate-cookied-out.

Dorie added raisins, cocoa, and chocolate chunks to the recipe, but less butter. Maida’s cookie included instant coffee granules.

The verdict? The Chocolate Chunkers were very tasty. I used dried tart cherries rather than raisins, and opted for semisweet chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. I have to admit that I liked the Chocolate Whopper Drops from last week a little better, but these were still really good. I would make them again.

The Mulattoes had a strong coffee flavor, and since I really dislike coffee, I’m afraid I didn't like them. If you're into coffee, you might like them, but it was just too strong for me. (I often use coffee as my liquid in chocolate cake, as I do think it intensifies the chocolate flavor, but these went way past that). I would probably like them if the coffee were left out.

Update: my coffee-drinking neighbor loved the mulattoes.

Thanks so much to Claudia of Fool for Food for choosing this week’s recipe, another great pick! You can find the recipe for Chocolate Chunkers at Claudia's site, or check out Dorie Greenspan’s book “Baking: From my Home to Yours”. You can find a copy of the Mulattoes cookie recipe, from Maida Haetter's "Book of Great Desserts" by clicking here. Or better yet, go buy the book!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Michael and Sarah, sittin’ in a tree…

k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…

Oh…. sorry. I guess I gotta give the poor kids a chance, they just got MARRIED! Wooo hooo!

And I finally decorated a cake! The first one, in, what? 6 months?

Hubby’s nephew and his fiancé (no, not hubby's fiancé, lol) were married this summer in Washington. Those of us that didn’t attend the wedding had a chance to celebrate with them when they visited last month.

Their wedding cake was teal with white chocolate seashells. I first considered some other type of beach cake but wasn’t really feeling it for some reason. But I kept the same cake color, although a lighter and slightly more bluish shade. I opted to go with hand-made sugar tulip decorations, because their “save the date” cards included a picture of them in a field of red tulips (aww).

This was my first attempt at tulips and I really enjoyed making them. There’s something about making flowers by hand... it's so rewarding. There’s this moment, after you’ve made however many less-than-perfect ones (I think about 10 in this case), that you get it right and they actually start to look like the intended flower. (The not so perfect ones take their places on the back-side of the cake.)

The “S” monogram was made from gumpaste, like the flowers, but I made the "M" out of candy clay. I’m starting to like candy clay more and more, it stays workable longer… it’s more forgiving than gumpaste which sets up hard so quickly.

Here’s the “M” monogram being made. I first started with a computer printout of the monogram cut to the size and style I wanted. I laid it on my rolled out candy clay and traced around it with a small pastry-wheel type tool.

Then I used my Exacto knife to make progressively deeper cuts, working my way eventually to the bottom of the candy clay. Then I cut and peeled away the excess. Once finished it was time to let the monogram dry. I let it sit overnight and then turned it over in the morning. Every so often I flipped it over to dry on the other side.

Finally, I attached skewers to the back side with melted chocolate. The skewers were eventually stuck into the cake. I also used a toothpick to reinforce the skinny, middle part of the letter since it seemed the most vulnerable to breakage. Hopefully you can see that here in a picture of the back side.

Anyway, I'm so happy for Mike and Sarah, two very special people (I keep wanting to call them “kids” LOL). Don't they look fantastic?