Recipe: Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies

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Fall is my favorite time of the year to bake. The cooler weather means that my tiny house doesn’t immediately feel like a sauna as soon as I turn the oven on. Pumpkin and apple are back in season. And, finally, there are lots of occasions to bake for once the holiday season arrives.

One of my favorite things to do when I was little was bake with my mom and I have always looked forward to spending time in the kitchen with my own children. So, I wasted no time getting Little B into the kitchen to bake her first batch of cookies.

As you can see, she couldn’t quite stay awake for the job, so my mom and I ended up doing most of the work. Fortunately, these Brown Sugar Oatmeal cookies were super easy to make and B stayed asleep until the last batch was out of the oven.

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The brown sugar gives these cookies a rich flavor and chewy texture and the generous portion of oats makes them pretty hearty. I baked mine for 12 minutes, so they retained their softness, but you could leave them in the oven for a bit longer if you prefer your cookies to be crispy.

These cookies are pretty much perfect for any time of the day. Even breakfast. I mean, you have the oats, brown sugar and pecans, so these cookies are basically bowls of oatmeal in cookie form, right? And, everyone knows that oatmeal is healthy. So, starting your day off with a couple of these is totally acceptable.

Plus, they are easy to eat while toting a baby around the house in one arm. I haven’t been a parent for that long, but  trying to manage a bowl of hot cereal and a spoon, plus a baby, just seems like a recipe for disaster. I’m glad that I figured out how to save myself the trouble.

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Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies

Barely Adapted from: The Pioneer Woman

Yield: The recipe states 24, but I got more than 30 out of this recipe, using a medium sized cookie sccop.

What you will need:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each one.
  3. Mix together the flour, salt, baking soda and nuts (if using) in a medium sized bowl.
  4. Add it into the creamed mixture in 2 to 3 batches, mixing it until just combined. Mix in the oats until just combined.
  5. Use a cookie scoop (or a regular spoon) to drop portions of dough onto a lightly greased cookie sheet, spacing them a couple inches apart. Bake for 12-13 minutes or until dark and chewy.
  6. Let them cool slightly on the pan after removing from the oven and move to wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe: Cherry Streusel Bars

I hope that everyone had a fabulous 4th of July! We didn’t do anything too crazy, mostly because the idea of leaving the comfort of an air-conditioned house was not at all appealing. Watching the fireworks on TV and having an indoor barbecue with my family was good enough for me!

Whether you are spending your summer holidays indoors or outdoors, it just wouldn’t be a party without a good dessert. Flag cakes seem to be the most popular for summer’s patriotic holidays. But, if you are looking for something a little different, I would suggest these dessert bars, loaded with a tart cherry filling and a buttery almond and oatmeal topping. There was that whole legend about George Washington and the cherry tree, right? So, these are still a pretty patriotic option.

cherry bars 2

You could easily substitute other dried fruits or preserves that you might have on hand for the cherries in this recipe. Strawberries or blueberries could be another good option for summer and maybe apples or cranberry in the fall, for example.

I highly recommend serving them with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream (As usual, I whipped up my favorite version from David Leibovitz’s the Perfect Scoop).

Cherry Streusel Bars

Adapted slightly from: America’s Test Kitchen and Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful 

Yield: About 2 dozen (depending on how large you cut the bars)

What You Will Need

Note: The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon of kirsch (clear cherry brandy) in the filling and 1 cup of sweetened flaked coconut in the streusel. I left these out because I didn’t have them on hand, and don’t think it affected the flavor or texture at all.

Filling

Note: Filling can be made one day ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to bake.

Dough and Streusel

Note: The suggestion of using the dough/topping from the America’s Test Kitchen (ATK)  raspberry bar recipe came from Gastronomy Blog. It’s true–the ATK recipe has just the right texture and sweetness and it always bakes up perfectly. But, adding the extracts and cinnamon called for in the Bon Appetit recipe gave something extra special to the bars, as those ingredients are the perfect complements for cherries!

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoon sized pieces (16 tablespoons are needed for the dough, 2 tablespoons for the streusel)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with an aluminum foil sling. Spray with cooking spray or grease with butter.
  2. Combine the dried cherries and the preserves into a chunky puree using a food processor. Set aside.
  3. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in bowl of electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment for the mixer, beat in 16 tablespoons of butter, as well as the vanilla and almond extract at slow speed, until the mixture comes together in moist clumps. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture in a separate bowl for the streusel topping.
  4. Gather remaining dough together into a ball and press into the prepared baking pan. Pierce dough all over with a fork and bake until golden, about 22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
  5. Remove crust from oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
  6. While crust is cooling, make the streusel topping add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, light brown sugar, oats and almonds to the reserved dough and mix with a fork or pastry blender until small clumps form.
  7. Once crust is cool, spread cherry filling over it with a spatula and sprinkle streusel topping on top. Bake until filling is bubbling and streusel topping is golden brown, about 25 to 27 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and set pan on wire rack to cool for two hours. Remove bars from the pan using foil sling and cut into squares to serve.

 

Recipe: Flour’s Sticky Sticky Buns

You might already know this about me, but I like instant gratification. Especially when it comes to baked goods. That’s why cookies are one of my favorite things to bake. The batter tends to come together fairly quickly and a dozen are in and out of the oven in 15 minutes or less. That aligns perfectly with my attention span and seemingly endless desire for dessert.

You know what’s a real test of patience?

Waiting NINE HOURS for sticky buns. Most of this is inactive prep time, since the dough needs to proof twice before baking, so you won’t be slaving over the oven the entire time.

Toasting pecans

Toasting pecans

But, still. It’s a two day project.

Fortunately, at the end of this process you won’t have just any old sticky buns. These will be the famous Sticky Sticky Buns from Boston’s Flour Bakery.

Remember that every time you open the refrigerator during those first six hours of proofing time, and that pale ball of brioche dough taunts you with the knowledge that you’ll have to wait until sometime the following day to get your fix.

Brioche dough after proofing for six hours

Brioche dough after proofing for six hours

(However, the protracted prep time does make it a perfect project for a lazy, three day weekend, since it also allows for two hour naps during the process if you so desire. And, I did).

All rolled up

All rolled up

Ready for the oven after two more hours of proofing

Ready for the oven after two more hours of proofing

Friends, they are totally worth the wait. They are tender and chewy in all of the right places (particularly, in the center) and dripping in warm, caramel “goo” (yes, that’s the technical name for it) and toasted pecans.

Finally.

Finally.

Next time, I’ll be a little more liberal with the pecans and I’ll make some extra goo to drizzle over them before serving. Then, they’ll be exactly like what I remember from the shop. God bless Joanne Chang for making this recipe publicly available for the times when I just can’t make the trip to Boston and I really NEED a sticky bun.

This was the first recipe that I tried from the Flour cookbook and I’m looking forward to others. One of the things that I like best about this book is that are recipes are very detailed, with great descriptions of how the mixtures will look, feel and even sound as they make their way around the mixing bowl at various stages in the process. So, even if you are still working on your baking skills, you’ll feel a little bit more confident about taking on the more challenging recipes.

Flour’s Sticky Sticky Buns

From: Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

by Joanne Chang

What you will need:

For the brioche dough:

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 1-ounce fresh cake yeast
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 3/8 cups (2 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 10 to 12 pieces.

For the goo:

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped

What to do:

For the brioche dough:

Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all the ingredients are combined. Stop the mixer, as needed, to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Once the dough has come together, beat on low speed for another 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be very stiff and seem quite dry.

With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, 1 piece at a time, mixing after each addition until it disappears into the dough. Continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. It is important for all the butter to be thoroughly mixed into the dough. If necessary, stop the mixer occasionally and break up the dough with your hands to help mix in the butter.

Once the butter is completely incorporated, turn up the speed to medium and beat until the dough becomes sticky, soft, and somewhat shiny, another 15 minutes. It will take some time to come together. It will look shaggy and questionable at the start and then eventually it will turn smooth and silky. Turn the speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute. You should hear the dough make a slap-slap-slap sound as it hits the sides of the bowl. Test the dough by pulling at it; it should stretch a bit and have a little give. If it seems wet and loose and more like a batter than a dough, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until it comes together. If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, continue to mix on medium speed for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it. It is ready when you can gather it all together and pick it up in 1 piece.

Put the dough in a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the dough. Let the dough proof (that is, grow and develop flavor) in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight At this point you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

For the goo:

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, to combine (it may look separated, that’s ok). Remove from the heat and whisk in the honey, cream, water, and salt. Strain to remove any undissolved lumps of brown sugar. Let cool for about 30 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature. You should have about 3 cups. (The mixture can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Putting the buns together:

Divide the dough in half. Use half for this recipe and reserve the other half for another use.

On a floured work surface, roll out the brioche into rectangle about 12 by 16 inches and 1/4-inch thick. It will have the consistency of cold, damp Play-Doh and should be fairly easy to roll. Position the rectangle so a short side is facing you.

In a small bowl, make the filling. Stir together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and half of the pecans. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Starting from the short side farthest from you and working your way down, roll up the rectangle like a jelly roll. Try to roll tightly, so you have a nice round spiral. Trim off about 1/4- inch from each end of the roll to make them even.

Use a bench scraper or a chef’s knife to cut the roll into 8 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2-inches wide. (At this point, the unbaked buns can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. When ready to bake, thaw them, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, then proceed as directed.)

Pour the goo into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, covering the bottom evenly. Sprinkle the remaining pecans evenly over the surface. Arrange the buns, evenly spaced, in the baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm spot to proof until the dough is puffy, pillowy, and soft and the buns are touching-almost tripled in size, about 2 hours.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 degrees F.

Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the dish on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes. One at a time, invert the buns onto a serving platter, and spoon any extra goo and pecans from the bottom of the dish over the top.

The buns are best served warm or within 4 hours of baking. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, and then warmed in a 325 degree F oven for 10 to 12 minutes before serving.

The Friday Five: On Resolutions and Sweet Treats

At some point in grade school, I had a teacher who made us write down our new year’s resolutions and share them with the class. I went to Catholic school, so it was probably just another way to make us feel guilty about our bad habits, but making resolutions is a practice that I have kept up with ever since.

When I was younger, I would always resolve to stop biting my nails. It was a record if I could make it to January 4th (Getting acrylic nails for Senior Prom in high school and maintaining them for nearly a decade after that was the only thing that broke that habit. Those things are impossible to bite off). As I got older, I frequently attempted banish curse words from my vocabulary when January 1 rolled around. That proved pretty much impossible since cursing is the only thing that makes me feel better when people act like idiots.

In light of these dismal failures, I’ve started to frame my new year’s resolutions with the goal of developing new, productive habits. This seems less daunting–and more fun–than trying to get rid of the bad ones. Five years ago, instead of saying that I wanted to lose a certain amount of weight, I just focused on the idea of wanting to be in better shape, which started me on the path to working out on a regular basis. Two years ago, this blog grew out of my commitment to develop and stick with a new hobby.

This year, one of my goals is to continue to work on my baking skills. It might sound lame, but baking has become a major stress reliever for me. I’m the kind of person who sometimes has trouble turning her mind off. But, somehow its easier to do when I’m spooning flour into measuring cups, creaming butter and sugar together or scooping out cookie dough. Over the past couple of years, I’ve become pretty good at making cookies, cupcakes and brownies but I would really like to step out of my comfort zone and try a few new recipes.

To that end, here are a few things that I’m looking forward to trying out in 2013:

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Macarons: So pretty, yet so tricky to make. I received the Bouchon Bakery book for Christmas and a few of the bloggers that I follow have written that the technique used in Thomas Keller’s recipe has solved their macaron phobia.

sticky buns

Flour’s Sticky Buns: One of my favorite treats when I visit Boston. I also asked for the Flour Bakery book for Christmas, specifically so I could make them (Completed, January 21).

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Layer Cake: From scratch, since the only layer cakes I’ve ever made have involved boxed mixes and canned frosting.

cheesecake

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Cheesecake: Just because I’ve never made one of these either and they are one of my favorite desserts.

pasta fresh

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Homemade pasta: So, this falls into the savory category, but I’ll still count it in this list because it involves making a dough. Pasta making is a basic skill for us Italians, so I better start practicing.

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Truffles: I had hoped to have time over to holidays to make some to give as gifts. Oh well, maybe next year!

What’s on your new year’s resolution list this year–food related or otherwise?

Happy Birthday, Checkter!

Chester got another year older this week (I won’t tell you his exact age because that’s just mean and I’ve made fun of him enough lately for his proximity to 40). So, we celebrated with food, of course.

Saturday night, we had dinner at one of his favorite places, Fogo de Chao, where he estimated that he ate about a pound and a half of filet mignon, lamb and other assorted meats. My favorite thing about Fogo is salad bar, which offers a huge assortment of salads, veggies, and cheeses. I loaded up on so much of that stuff that I didn’t even flip my card from red to green once.

We walked off some of our dinner with a stroll down Walnut Street to see the Christmas tree in Rittenhouse Square park.

Then, somehow, we found room for milkshakes at Max Brenner.

For the homemade portion of his birthday celebration, Chester requested blondies. He loves brown sugar more than anyone I’ve ever met (he told me he used to eat it by the spoonful when he was little), so it’s no surprise that he would prefer these to rich, chocolate brownies. Obviously, we are total opposites in this regard.

When I’ve tried blondies in the past, I’ve always been disappointed. They always seem to be dense, bland and dry. The America’s Test Kitchen recipe that I used for this batch completely changed my mind.

Melting the butter instead of creaming it incorporates less air into the batter, for a light, chewy texture. I also added a little bit of espresso powder to bring out the flavor of the milk chocolate and took the extra time to toast the pecans to enhance their flavor as well. The longer they sit, the better the flavors and textures have become.

This recipe could be adapted for a wide variety of preferences, using different flavors of chocolate chips or different kinds of nuts. The possibilities are endless!

Blondies

Adapted slightly from America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

What you will need

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with a foil sling and coat with cooking spray
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, espresso powder, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the melted butter and brown sugar together until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Fold in the chocolate chips and the nuts, and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
  5. Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch, for 22 to 25 minutes.
  6. Place the pan on a rack and let cool completely (about an hour). Cut into 1 1/2- by 2-inch bars.

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Hurricane Sandy swept through the East Coast on Monday and Tuesday and I’m relieved to say that–at least in my little corner of South Philly–we came through relatively unscathed.

I know that folks in the surrounding areas, including the Philadelphia suburbs, the Jersey Shore and New York were not so lucky. Seeing the photos and news footage of all of the devastation is heart-wrenching. I hope that those who were affected will be able to recover some sense of normalcy in the coming days and weeks and begin the process of rebuilding.

At my house, the lights flickered a few times, but they stayed on. We got a bit of water in our basement, but that’s par for the course with even the most minor of rainstorms. All of the trees on our street are still standing. I feel pretty lucky.

And, I’m not going to lie. I kind of enjoyed my Hurrication.

I flipped back and forth between constant news coverage and the Food Network (I also discovered that Chester never programmed the Hallmark Channel into our cable menu. I was wondering where The Golden Girls had gone!). I finished making a photo book to document our trip to France last year. I spent quality time with my Nook, catching up on magazines and this month’s book club selection (Escape, which I highly recommend. It’s so crazy that I have to keep reminding myself it’s actually a true story). I played with the cat, although I think that she was annoyed that I was disrupting her sleep schedule. I drank way too many cups of coffee.

Best of all, I made these pumpkin cookies. Which are actually less like cookies and more like little mini cakes.* The soft, slightly spicy cookies are complemented by a sweet cinnamon cream cheese frosting. They pair extremely well with a fresh cup of coffee and are just the thing to warm you up on a cold and rainy fall day.

Soft Frosted Pumpkin Cookies

From: The Baker Chick

Makes about 3 dozen

What you will need

For the cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I didn’t have cloves, so I substituted the same amount of   pumpkin pie spice. Perfect).
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
2-3 cups powdered sugar (2 ½ cups was about the right sweetness for my taste).
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine first seven ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and white sugar.
  3. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy.
  4. Add dry ingredients gradually and beat until combined.
  5. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls. The dough will be pretty soft. I used a medium sized cookie scoop to make them a pretty uniform size. Just scrap the scoop against the side of the bowl to round it off before dropping on the sheet.
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. While the cookies cooling, make the icing: cream butter and cream cheese together in bowl of electric mixer. Slowly add powdered sugar and mix until thick and creamy; Add vanilla and cinnamon.
  8. When cookies are cooled, spread frosting on top with an offset spatula.

*These cookies actually remind me of these Archway cookies that my grandmother used to buy for me any my brother when we were young. They were a soft, vanilla flavored cookie with a thin layer of white frosting and red and green sprinkles. They were oval shaped and I want to say they were called Frosted Fingers. Sadly, I haven’t seen them in years. Does anyone else remember them or know where I can find them? I’ll be your friend forever if you do!

How Do You Like Them Apples?

I hope everyone spent the past couple of days battening down the hatches, because Hurricane Sandy is just about here. I’ve got all of the essentials, including batteries, peanut butter and wine. My office is closed until Wednesday and while I’m looking forward to this unexpected leisure time, I’m also nervous that something will happen to the electricity. The thought of not being able to access the Interwebs or use a blowdryer is just too much to bear.

Luckily, we made our annual trip to Linvilla Orchards last weekend, when the weather was just perfect. Linvilla is a 300-acre farm in Delaware County where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables throughout the year or stock up on gourmet foods and baked goods at the Farm Market. Of course, pumpkins and apples take center stage throughout the fall.

Sometimes we take the crazy lady out.

Linvilla has about 25 different kinds of apples on its 20 acres of orchards. Half a bushel will run you about $30. On the day we visited, we picked Golden Delicious, Joanna Gold, Winesap, and Red Delicious. And, by “we picked,” I mean that my mom, aunt and I pointed out the apples that we wanted and Chester fished them out of trees with the grabber.

Nothing beats an apple picked straight off the tree. They are juicier and more flavorful than any apple I’ve ever gotten from a supermarket.

I made my very first apple cobbler with some of our haul. It was so much easier than making a pie, because you can forgo making a crust in favor of a really simple batter that gets dropped over the top of the fruit and spreads while baking. I substituted brown sugar for plain old sugar in the topping for a richer flavor. Good vanilla ice cream melting over the top is a must.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to make a trip to Linvilla–or any orchard for that matter–until Frankenstorm blows on out of here. In the meantime, Happy Hurricaning, peeps! Stay safe and dry.

Recipe: Chocolate Toffee Cookies

I’ve been watching some of the swimming and gymnastic events during these first few days of the Olympics and there was a brief moment where I felt inspired to take up something sporty. But, then I realized that I can’t swim, so any water-based sports are out of the question. And, since I frequently fall when walking up a flight of steps, I should probably stay away from balance beams and uneven bars. It’s a shame that eating isn’t an Olympic sport, because I’m fairly certain I could qualify and probably even win a medal.

To accompany our Opening Ceremony viewing on Friday evening, I decided I wanted to make something British-inspired. The only desserts I remember eating on my visits to London were of the ice cream variety, but that seemed too basic. So, I looked up a recipe for sticky-toffee pudding, but it sounded way too complicated. Then, I came across a fairly easy recipe for Chocolate Toffee Cookies. Perfect.

I didn’t feel like crushing the Heath bars, so I just gave them a rough chop with a knife. The larger pieces caramelized a bit during baking, which enhanced their buttery flavor (I don’t recommend buying the already chopped Heath bits you can sometimes find along with chocolate chips in the baking aisle. They’re pretty bland and there’s too much chocolate coating in comparison to crunchy toffee). I also left out the rum (mostly because Chester wasn’t home and I couldn’t get the cap off myself. I know, I’m a weakling, right? Yet another reason why my Olympic dreams will never come true) and added an extra teaspoon of vanilla.

The cookies will be quite soft when you take them out of the oven, but will crisp up after sitting for about 15 minutes. The combination of the fudgy cocoa, buttery toffee and sweet almonds make this a totally decadent cookie. I’m surprised that we have any left in the container two days later, but it seems that the longer they sit, the richer the flavors become. Be sure to have a big glass of milk nearby.

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Just slightly adapted from:

Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful

What you will need:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped Heath bars
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
What to do:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Add egg, rum and vanilla and beat until well blended.
  3. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into small bowl. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture.
  4. Mix in toffee and chopped almonds.
  5. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto heavy large ungreased baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.
  6. Bake until cookies puff slightly and crack on top but are still soft to touch, about 11 minutes.
  7. Let cookies cool on sheet 1 minute. Transfer cookies to rack and cool at least 15 minutes, so that cookies will crisp up.

 

The Craft of Ice Cream at the Philadelphia Art Alliance

I started working at an art school last year and since then have become a bit more in tune with the organizations that foster the visual and performing arts in the city. I’ve seen a couple of great exhibitions at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and was really excited when I started to get e-mails advertising events focused not only on the traditional craft and design mediums, but on the craft of particular foods as well.

To me, creating good food definitely does share some of the same elements that go into creating things like jewelry or glass. Many professional chefs and bakers, for example, spend years training in various techniques and continue to refine their skills over the course of their careers. They think creatively about how to use ingredients that make dishes interesting (both in terms of their taste and visual presentation) and keep customers coming back to their restaurants and businesses again and again. And, many of them then go on to train and mentor others to do the same.

The most recent installment in the Art Alliance’s food-focused event series brought together one of my local favorites—Franklin Fountain—and the Alliance’s new, on-site restaurant Rittenhouse Tavern for an evening focused on summer’s quintessential treats: burgers, fries and ice cream. Obviously, this was pretty much the perfect date night for me and Chester. I’m not sure if the pricing is standard for each event, but I thought that the $35 registration fee, which included the RT Burger and fries, the discussion and ice cream tasting was pretty reasonable for a night out (Note: Beverages were not included and there was also a $20 registration option that just included the discussion and tasting).

Rittenhouse Tavern has only been open for a few months, but I have been hearing good things about the food being created by chef Nicholas Elmi (formerly of Le Bec Fin) and the beautiful garden dining area (which was just listed by Philadelphia Magazine as the best outdoor dining spot on its recent “Best of Philly” list). The whole space, in general, is gorgeous. The décor is classic and elegant—distressed wood tables, leather chairs, and marble accents—that really complements the original artwork and details of the historic mansion that the Art Alliance calls home.

The burger, features dry-aged beef, provolone, watercress and “special sauce.” It’s served on a multigrain roll, baked with Yards’ Extra Special Ale, which gives it a rich, yeasty flavor.

Unfortunately, the burgers came out a bit more well done than our requested medium (me) and medium rare (Chester). Perhaps, in light of the number of people expected to attend that night, a lot of the prep and cooking was done in advance, making it difficult to get things just right. Overall, though, it was one of the best burgers I’ve had in awhile in terms of the flavor combination—the sharpness of the cheese, slight bitterness from the greens, and tang of the mayo-based sauce. I would definitely return to Rittenhouse Tavern to sample more of what’s on the menu. There were many appealing options listed, including the fish entrees and family style fried chicken supper, as well as an extensive cocktail, wine and beer list (For a hot summer night, I highly recommend the Tavern Lemonade, which has just a bit of rum and mint.)

After dinner, we went upstairs for the discussion with Eric Berley, who co-founded Franklin Fountain along with his brother in 2004. He spent about 40 minutes discussing how they built their business, from hunting down traditional soda fountain equipment, to working with antique ice cream making supplies and molds, to apprenticing with an ice cream maker in New York to learn the craft. Berley has quite an extensive knowledge of the history of soda fountain and ice cream in general. Since opening Franklin Fountain, he and his brother have made ice cream in the shape of Liberty Bells and colonial houses for special events and have been called upon as consultants for other entrepreneurs looking to refurbish old soda fountains in other cities.

Of course, there were samples, including a refreshing raspberry sorbet, creamy vanilla bean, and fresh blueberry.

From adjusting the amount berries that are needed to give the blueberry ice cream its subtle hue to achieving a perfect, thick consistency for hot fudge, to playing around with the amount of  syrup needed for a smooth coffee ice cream, Berley and his team go through an extensive trial and error process to ensure that each recipe is just right. They use local ingredients to craft traditional favorites, such as vanilla, rocky road, and coffee, as well as flavors with a historical context (such as  teaberry and huckleberry). This attention to detail and the use of natural ingredients ensures that Franklin Fountain ice cream and toppings taste exactly what they are supposed to taste like, without any hint of artificial flavoring or cloying sweetness.

I really enjoyed hearing the story behind Franklin Fountain and it made me appreciate the craftsmanship and passion that goes into making one of my favorite treats. The Art Alliance is planning a few future “Craft of…” events, including a November program, featuring Franklin Fountain’s sister business, Shane Confectionery. I’ll definitely be putting that on my calendar!

You can visit the Art Alliance website to sign up for its mailing list so you can get in the loop. Aside from the food related events, the Art Alliance shows a lot of great work. One of the current exhibitions, Shiny Monsters, features Adam Wallacavage’s gothic, under-the-sea inspired chandeliers and light fixtures  (if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might remember that I posted one of his pink octopus chandeliers back in April, when he exhibited them in UArts’ annual fundraiser). They’re kind of crazy, but I kind of wish I had a place for one in my house.

 

Recipe: Zoku Lemonade Pops

Summer. Do you remember how much fun it used to be?

There was nothing like the feeling of coming home on that last day of school, knowing that you wouldn’t have to wear a uniform for three months or spend the afternoons thinking up sentences for those silly vocabulary words. Depending on your age, blowing bubbles in the yard, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk and/or riding your bike to the park were pretty much the only things on the agenda.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that deciding what kind of frozen treat to buy at the corner store for an afternoon snack was pretty much the toughest decision you had to make. Am I?

I mean, there were so many to choose from. You could get one of those sickly sweet (but strangely addictive) Otter Pops in the plastic tube that always cut the sides of your mouth. Feel like something a little richer? The sherbet-based Flintstones Push-Up Pop was a good choice. Want to make your mom worry that you would choke to death? The Screwball with the two gumballs at the bottom of the cone was the only way to go, in that case.

Yes, popsicles remind me of simpler times.

So, that’s why I was pretty excited to add the Zoku Quick Pop Maker to my kitchen gadget collection this year. All you need to do is stick the base in your freezer for at least 24 hours and then you will be able to whip up any variety of ice pop that you want in about seven minutes. The possibilities are endless—from single flavor juice pops, to pops with fresh fruit slices, to pops with a cream-based core.

Source

The first time I used the Zoku, I decided to make fudge pops and assumed that you could pretty much use any kind of recipe. So, I found one via Pinterest (of course) that sounded rich and delicious. And, it was. Unfortunately, the mixture was also way too dense and the pops did not freeze all that well. They were nearly impossible to remove from the molds with the handy “Super Tool” that comes with the maker. I probably just should have stuck to either the recipes on the company’s blog or in the recipe book. Oh well. But, you can bet that I’ll be making a trip to the dollar store for regular old ice pop molds so I can make these fudge pops again.

In spite of this mishap, I was not deterred. I made a second attempt using the Zoku recipe for Lemonade Pops and had much better results. The pops came out of the molds very easily this time around. It pays to follow directions, right? The end product is tart and refreshing and vanilla extract balances the acidity of the citrus. The flavors developed even more after the pops spent a few hours in the freezer.

Overall, I am a fan of the Quick Pop Maker. I like the fact that the pops can be made with natural ingredients, fresh fruit, and minimal amounts of sugar (It should be noted, however, that you should not use sugar-free ingredients. A small amount of sugar is needed to help the pops release from the mold). And, the basic pops use many staples you probably already have in your pantry so they are inexpensive to make (the lemonade pops probably came out to around 25 cents each). The maker will produce up to nine pops before it needs to be put back into the freezer and you can buy a nice plastic case separately to store your pops.

Like the bowl of my ice cream maker, the Quick Pop base now has a permanent home in my freezer. You never know when a craving might strike.

Lemonade Pops

“Zoku Quick Pops,” by Jackie Zorovich & Kristina Sacci

Yields 6 pops

What you will need:

1 cup water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup (2 ounces pure orange juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon  slices, cut 1/8-inch thick (optional)

What to do:

  1. Stir together the water and sugar until sugar has dissolved.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice, orange juice and vanilla.
  3. To assemble to pops, use the Zoku fruit wand (sold separately from the maker), or tweezers*, apply the lemon slices to the walls of the pop maker molds.
  4. Insert sticks and pour the lemon base until you reach the fill line.
  5. Let freeze completely and remove. 

*Or, just your fingers, like I did. Stuff sticks to the side of that mold on contact, trust me. So, I guess you should be careful if you go this route, or you’ll end up like the kid in A Christmas Story who gets his tongue stuck to the pole.