Friday, November 30, 2012

Cowboy Cookies from The Daily Cookie

One of my favorite bloggers of all time just wrote a cookbook, and it's really great. Anna of Cookie Madness has been posting recipes of not only cookies but tons of other desserts on a near daily basis for years. I consider her a baking authority and definitely a cookie authority.

I was really excited to get her book, The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life. Once I delved into it, I couldn't stop blabbing about how impressed I was. I've got to be honest: My eyes pass over a lot of cookbooks every year, and it is rare that one shows me much of anything that I haven't already seen a million times. But The Daily Cookie is packed with cool stuff that actually feels new and original!

The first recipe I tried was the Cowboy Cookies. It was one of those days when I was determined not to make a trip to the supermarket and use up ingredients I had in the house. I was tempted to try the hazelnut mocha cookies, the Easy Cafe au Lait Brownies or the No-Bake Peanut Butter Bites, but Anna mentioned that the Cowboy Cookies were one of her favorites, so I went with it.

These are meant to be big, Texas-sized cookies, but I'm lame and made them half the recommended size. They were still large, and I don't think anything was lost due to the tweak. My husband's comment was that the buttery, crisp edges tasted almost fried. The cookies are not greasy; I assure you he meant that as a high compliment. The centers are chewy, and it's just an all-around great recipe. And I have to warn those of you who aren't scared of raw cookie dough:* this one's utterly addictive.

One last thing about the book, it's really fun to read! Anna found an event from history or holiday of some sort (my birthday is "national hermit day") and tied that day's recipe to the event. Tons of research went into the book, and you'll learn a lot of cool facts. There's also a color photo of every single treat. Love it! It's now Christmas cookie baking time, so if you get one new book this year for inspiration, it needs to be this one!

*This blog does not recommend eating raw cookie dough, but what you do in private is you own business.

Cowboy Cookies
Adapted from The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life by Anna Ginsberg

Makes 24 large or 48 medium cookies

2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup toasted and chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed sweetened flaked coconut
1 2/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F and place a rack in the center. Have ready 2 ungreased baking sheets (I used insulated nonstick baking sheets, but any kind should work).

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with handheld electric mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add both sugars and beat until very light and creamy, about 2 minutes.   Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Continuing on the lowest speed, gradually add flour mixture, then add the oats. Stir in pecans, coconut and chocolate chips.

For large cookies scoop scant 1/4-cup-sized balls of dough and place on cookie sheets 3 inches apart. Press dough down to make 1/2-inch thick rounds. Bake one sheet at a time until edges are lightly browned and centers are just set, 12 to 14 minutes. For medium cookies, scoop about 2 level tablespoons dough and roll into balls. Place on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and chill 15 minutes (this keeps the smaller cookies from spreading too much). Press dough to form 1/2-inch thick rounds and bake one sheet at a time (keep 2nd sheet in refrigerator) for 11 to 12 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack and cool completely.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sweet Potato Biscuits

This is a really good and EASY recipe for sweet potato biscuits. Even better if you have some leftover sweet potatoes handy. You can use any kind of sweet potatoes--I roasted some with ancho chile powder for a side dish, making extra so I'd have enough for this recipe. If you have Thanksgiving leftovers, whether mashed or roasted, sweet or savory, they should work fine.

What makes this recipe so easy is that it calls for melted butter. Typical biscuit technique, on the other hand, requires you to work very cold chunks of butter into the dry ingredients--a bit more work in my book. Also, you also don't need any buttermilk or cream (things I don't always have on hand), just a little regular milk.

The recipe comes from Serious Eats, and the only change I'd recommend is reducing the amount of sugar (this is reflected in my version below). If your potatoes are already sweetened, don't use any sugar at all.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Adapted from Serious Eats
Eliminate the sugar completely if your potatoes are already sweetened. To make these biscuits a savory accompaniment for soup or baked ham, I'd use 1 tablespoon of sugar. If you want them sweet, use 3 tablespoons.

Makes 7 (2 1/2-inch) biscuits

1 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes (use roasted, baked, boiled, whatever)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
1 to 3 tablespoons sugar (see recipe headnote)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine sweet potatoes and butter. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add sweet potato mixture to flour mixture and stir until combined. Add milk and stir gently until a thick dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a thick disk. Roll or pat dough into a 3/4-inch thick circle and stamp out biscuits with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Re-roll dough scraps and stamp more biscuits until you've used all the dough. Bake until biscuits are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minute. Transfer to a rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream (The Best!) & Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake from Cook's Illustrated

This is the birthday cake I made for myself a few weeks ago. It is a simple yellow cake made with buttermilk, but the best part was the fluffy chocolate frosting. It's crazy good. I'm calling it the best, because it's the best for me. There are plenty of different types of chocolate frosting, and different ways to make it, but this is my favorite. It's light, fluffy and smooth in texture with deep chocolate flavor. It's incredibly easy to work with too.

To arrive at this dreamy version, I cobbled together two recipes from a blog I really enjoy, Sweetapolita. She also loves fluffy, whipped-to-the-heavens frosting. This is a very easy American buttercream, but what makes the flavor is top-notch chocolate that's melted and beat into the butter and powdered sugar base. I wrote all about what I used in the recipe headnote, but you can make the same frosting with different chocolates (milk, white), depending on what you want.

UPDATE NOV. 12, 2014:  I found an even better yellow cake! It's from the wizards at Cook's Illustrated and appeared in their magazine in 2008. It's meant to have the flavor and texture of a boxed cake without the weird, chemical twang. I absolutely love it, and I've included the recipe below with a few tiny tweaks of my own. The image above the cake recipe is of the Cook's Illustrated cake, frosted with the Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream.

The cake itself was great. It is from the book Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne, but I got the recipe from Cookie Madness, where it was used to make terrific cupcakes. It makes a 3-layer 8-inch cake; I have 9-inch pans, so I made two 9-inch layers and 9 cupcakes (filled 2/3 full). It baked up beautifully, with a fine, tender crumb. I think I would double the vanilla for a little extra oomph if I made it again. But, it's a great cake that keeps well for a few days in the refrigerator, and it's a very straightforward recipe.

Do you have a favorite homemade frosting? Tell me in the comments!

Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream
Adapted from Whipped Vanilla Frosting and Nutella Cloud Frosting by Sweetapolita. Makes more than enough to frost a 2-layer, 9-inch cake.

For the chocolate, I used a mixture of 3 different types I had on hand: Callebaut Dark Callets 53.8%, Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips 63%, and Ghirardhelli bittersweet chips 60%. I recommend keeping the chocolate in the 53 to 63% range if you want this exact version, but it would work with any kind of chocolate you like, including white.

I used a little more chocolate than the original recipe called for in my version below, to account for the chocolate that inevitably ends up on the spoon, on the spatula, on the bowl you use to melt it--so don't worry if you get chocolate all over the place. The melted chocolate does NOT need to be completely, totally at cool room temp. If it gets too cool, it will start to solidify; do not put it in the refrigerator, you'll have condensation, and it will seize.

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), at room temperature
2 1/4 cups (285 grams) confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark chocolate chips or chopped bars (see recipe headnote), melted and cooled slightly
1 to 2 tablespoons whole or 2% milk, IF NEEDED

Add butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium ("4" on a Kitchen Aid mixer) for 6 minutes, or until very pale, creamy and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and beat on medium for 6 minutes more. Add melted chocolate and beat on medium until smooth, light and very fluffy, 2 to 5 minutes. If during this final mixing, frosting seems too thick, slowly add milk, as needed (I didn't need it). Start frosting your cake right away--it spreads like a dream.

Cooks Illustrated Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake
I don't grease and flour the pans or use parchment. I have nonstick cake pans that I spray with Pam Baking Spray. The spray has flour in it, and it works. I love it! I increased the amount of vanilla extract (and I usually use double-strength extract) and added some almond extract too.
BAKING NOTE: The first time I made this cake the center did not appear set after 22 minutes. I believe that I over beat the egg whites and did not fully incorporate them into the mixture. Therefore, they separated during baking and formed a “wet” area in the center of the cakes, which firmed up when the separated moisture evaporated. I can't explain this in perfect scientific terms, but I think this issue led me to over bake the cakes by a few minutes. I've included instructions below to help avoid this problem.

Makes two 9-inch round cakes

2½ cups (10 ounces) cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon table salt
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) granulated sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract (optional)
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and knock out the excess (or skip this and coat pans with baking spray; see head note). Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar together in a large bowl. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, almond extract and yolks.

2. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at high speed (8 on a KitchenAid) until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should just hold a peak but mixture should appear moist, not stiff). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. Add the flour mixture to the now-empty mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape the whisk and sides of the bowl. Return the mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.

4. Using rubber spatula, stir ⅓ of the whites into the batter to lighten, then add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain (mix gently, but be sure the whites are fully incorporated). Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Lightly tap the pans against the counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

5. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs are okay, 20-24 minutes (Sides of cake will not pull away from the pan until it begins to cool so cake make not LOOK done, but it is; when you use a light-colored baking pan, the sides and edges will not turn golden; 24 minutes at the most). Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the cakes from the sides of the pan with a small knife, then invert onto a greased wire rack and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes again and cool completely on rack, about 1½ hours.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

French Onion Tart

A couple of weeks ago, we wanted to have really nice champagne brunch at home, so I made this tart. It's not overly decadent, so it was a great accompaniment to bacon and eggs. It's time-consuming, but some or most of the work can be done ahead of time.

Let me just tell you, it is divine. I want to make it again right now (but then I would be so boring!). The onions alone will blow your mind if you've never slowly caramelized a whole lot of onions the proper way. I only wish I invented this recipe, but alas, it's from Food52 (of course I made some tiny tweaks, but the original version was a wonderfully written recipe). While awesome for brunch, I ate the leftovers for dinner with soup. Eat it with anything you want at any time of day.

French Onion Tart
Adapted from Jennifer Perillo, via Food52.
This tart takes time, but it's not difficult, and the results are worth it. I will always make the dough the day before, so that's how I wrote the recipe. You can, however, do it all in one go. On the other hand, the onions may be made one day ahead as well, as far as step 3. Cover and refrigerate, and bring them to room temperature before continuing with the recipe so the tart filling isn't cold going into the oven. Also, be sure your butter is frozen, so it's easily grated. This is a great way to evenly distribute butter in pastry dough, rather than cutting it into chunks.

For the crust:
3/4 cups (110 g) whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
few dashes cayenne pepper or 1/2 tsp paprika
2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated (1/2 cup tightly packed)
4 tablespoons frozen unsalted butter, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 to 3 tablespoons cold seltzer or water
all-purpose flour, for rolling

For the filling:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated (1/2 cup tightly packed)

1. To make the crust, add flour, salt and cayenne or paprika to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. Add cheese and butter and pulse a few times until it forms a sandy-looking mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of the seltzer or water and pulse until dough starts to come together into a ball. If dough is still crumbly, add more seltzer, 1 teaspoon at a time, until dough just comes together. Turn out onto a work surface and pat into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days. If chilling longer than 30 minutes, let dough soften slightly at room temperature, to  make rolling easier (don't bring all the way up to room temp--it should be cool but pliable for rolling).

2. To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot on medium high. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Cover pot, reduce heat to lowest setting and cook until onions have cooked down and released their liquid, about 20 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 400 F. Remove lid from the pot and raise heat to medium. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind, you'll be adding cheese, which is salty). Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and very tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Stir in vinegar and transfer to a large bowl.

4. On a piece of parchment paper, roll dough into a 12-inch circle, dusting dough very lightly with all-purpose flour to prevent rolling pin from sticking. Fit into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Fold down sides of dough leaving a 1-inch high crust.

5. To finish the filling, add egg and cheese to onions and stir to combine. Add to tart crust, spreading filling to the edges with a rubber spatula. Bake until slightly puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack and serve.