Monday, December 13, 2010

Banana Bread

Again, I had a very large amount of very ripe bananas that needed to be used up relatively quickly. Banana bread seemed like the perfect thing to make. Quick breads always seem like such a wonderful comfort food on chilly winter days to me. Plus, I always think that I will freeze some for a rainy day. It never lasts that long ;)

Usually when I have extra bananas lying around I make banana chocolate chip muffins. However, I wanted to use up more of the bananas, so I decided to go with a double batch of banana bread. That used about 8 bananas and yielded 8 mini loaves. I made 4 with walnuts and 4 without. I prefer the ones with the walnuts, but I like the plain too. While making the bread, I realized that I was out of brown sugar, so I substituted white sugar and molasses (see below for substitution). They were just perfect. They looked perfect and tasted delicious. Another thing that I like to make sometimes with banana bread is honey butter. Just whip up some softened butter with some honey and voila! You have a delicious spread for not just banana bread, but also pancakes, waffles and countless other things. Just mix it to your taste. If you like it sweeter, use more honey.

Brown sugar is unrefined or partially refined and still contains the molasses. Molasses is the by-product of making refined white sugar. Generally, however, these days when you buy brown sugar, what you are actually buying is refined white sugar that has molasses added back into it. Light brown sugar contains about 3.5% molasses, while dark brown sugar contains 6.5%. If you run out of brown sugar but have white sugar and molasses on hand, there is a substitution. To make 1 cup of light brown sugar, combine 1 cup white sugar with 1 1/2 tablespoon of molasses. If you need dark brown sugar, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 1/4 cup molasses.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dinner Rolls

I made soft dinner rolls for Thanksgiving this year as I do every year. If I did not make them, my mom and husband would be incredibly disappointed. There really is nothing like warm homemade bread to add to your Thanksgiving table though.

Every year on Thanksgiving, I start my bread dough immediately after breakfast. This year I
made three batches instead of two. I always give them all away, and then Mike and I are left with none the next day. I love making bread. And every time I make bread, I think to myself, I should do this more often. Fresh bread is so much more delicious than what you buy in the store and doesn't have any of those yucky preservatives. I just use some basic techniques that I learned in pastry school and my trusty KitchenAid, and several hours later I have warm bread and a delicious smelling house. I always try to use fresh yeast. I think it makes for a better product. It yields a much nicer yeasty flavor that you just don't get from dry yeast. You have to mix the dough for such a long time, so I actually got to enjoy some of the parade on TV with my family while it was mixing up. I think that's the thing about fresh bread that I always forget. It takes a long tome to make it, but you don't actually have to be slaving away in the kitchen the whole time. You get
your mise en place and mix up the dough. Then the dough has to double in volume. Then you punch it down. Then it has to double again. Then, you actually have to do some work. You have to portion out and form the bread in whatever manner you desire. I portioned 1 oz pieces and formed each into a dinner roll. If you were just making loaves of bread, this would not be super time consuming. Then you have to let the rolls or loaves proof. Then it is baking time. So, really all in all, you don't have to be tied up in the kitchen for a majority of those steps. If you have never made homemade bread, I would suggest that you should try. It's not difficult and it is oh so tasty!

Proofing is an essential step when making homemade bread. It refers to the final dough rise
before baking. Sometimes called final fermentation, it is the specific term for allowing the dough to again rise after it has been shaped and/or panned. You can overproof the dough which will result in a bread with poor structure and lots of big bubbles and tunneling. You know your dough is underproofed if when you poke it, it springs back immediately. An underproofed dough will result in a tough product with a dry, crumby texture. A proof box is a chamber with controlled humidity and temperature ideal for allowing dough to rise and proof.

Cheesecake Brownies

I made cheesecake brownies for my husband's Thanksgiving party at work. I thought it would be something different from what everyone normally eats on Thanksgiving. Plus, they are super delicious.

Brownies and cheesecake together in one dessert! It doesn't get much better than that in my opinion. I know a lot of people do not like cheesecake, but I just don't get that. How could you not like cheesecake? I pair a simple plain cheesecake batter with my sinfully rich, fudgey dark chocolate brownies to make one decadently delicious dessert. If you have a recipe for each that you like, try to combine them. You don't need a recipe specifically for cheesecake brownies. Just pair two recipe that you like. You could put pecans in the brownie batter, bake it in the bottom of a springform pan, and make it the crust for your turtle cheesecake. If I can pass anything along to my readers it's that you should not be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. I often hear people saying, "I don't like to bake because it is so exact and you have to measure everything." This drives me crazy. Yes, you have to measure, but you can experiment with flavor combinations and recipes all the time as you have seen in all my posts. Don't be afraid to try. You may end up with an awful mess or a masterpiece! After all, chocolate chip cookies were created by accident :)

Brownies first came on the scene during the 1893 Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. A chef at the famous Palmer House Hotel created them after Bertha Palmer requested a dessert specifically for the ladies attending the exposition. She said it should be smaller than a piece of cake and easily eaten from a boxed lunch. These first brownies included an apricot glaze and walnuts. They are still being made according to the original recipe at the hotel.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Apple Oat Bran Muffins

I made these yummy, but good for you muffins a few weeks ago at my parent's house. They were all gone when I went back to take a picture, so there are no pictures of them :(

I arrived at my parent's house one evening with dinner that I had made for the kids, my mom and myself. My dad was away and Mike was working late. When I got there, my mom had a recipe for apple oat bran muffins sitting out on the counter. Of course she chose to watch the kids when I gave her the choice to make the muffins or spend time with the kiddos. She had some old apples that she wanted to use. These muffins had very little sugar and fat in them, but the apples made them very moist and sweet. The oat bran added a little extra texture and made them more nutritious. These were a big hit and disappeared quickly. I will definitely make these muffins again. I would even buy fresh apples to make them!

Oat bran is the outer husk of the oat grain. The bran is often discarded during the milling process. The bran is what contains the bulk of the fiber and many minerals. When bran is left on a grain, it is marketed as "whole grain". You can buy different varieties of bran in your local mega mart. It is the perfect way to boost your intake of dietary fiber.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Mmmm, pancakes. Who doesn't like pancakes, right? Well, my hubby loves them. Before I was pregnant with V, I made them every Saturday. I made them recently, and they were enjoyed by all.

I really do not buy mixes for anything. It is so much healthier if you make things from scratch at home rather than buying it ready made. Pancakes are no exception. Homemade pancakes are easy and delicious. I even make my batter the night before and stash it in the chill chest so that it is ready to go in the morning. And, I know there are some recipes out there for a homemade mix. You mix together the dry ingredients, store it and just have to add the wet ingredients when you want pancakes. My husband loves chocolate chip pancakes, so I always throw some of my favorites (Ghirardelli bittersweet chips) in his while they are cooking. I don't mix them in because I prefer plain pancakes. But you could add anything from blueberries to bananas, or even walnuts. If you add these things while they are cooking on the stove or in smaller batches, everyone can have their pancakes just how they like them. Someone even gave me a tip for blueberries. She uses dried blueberries and soaks them in water first. It is just like having fresh blueberries in your pancakes year round!!!

There is archeological evidence that suggests that pancakes were the earliest and most widespread form of cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies. Dry carbohydrate-rich seed flours were mixed with available liquids that were rich in protein, such as milk and eggs. They were most likely baked on hot stones or in earthenware pots over open fire. This was a very nutritious food for that time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fudgey Oatmeal Bars (Recipe Included)

I love to make these yummy treats anytime I need something quick and easy. They are especially good for kids. They always call them brownies, but they really have lots of oatmeal in them :) Sorry there will not be any pictures this time around. Apparently, my daughter stick a quarter in the SD card slot on my computer, and I cannot find a USB cord to connect my camera to my computer :(

I have always loved these simple little bars. We always had them when I was a kid. My sisters and I always loved them. We still do. I like to make this recipe without cocoa sometimes too. Then, they are simply oatmeal bars. They are scrumptious either way. I actually think that I prefer them without the cocoa. I also generally cut back on the sugar, maybe to just one cup. Often times when I make them without the cocoa, I double the recipe. This makes for more like a dense oatmeal cake which makes a delicious breakfast treat! Try out the recipe different ways. You could skip the cocoa and add raisins. You could use dried cranberries or walnuts. This recipe, as most of my recipes, can be tweaked to your liking.

Quick oats are oats that have been processed to greatly reduce the cooking time. Quick oats are produced by taking oat grains and cutting them into pieces. They are then rolled out. In contrast, regular rolled oats are rolled out, but not cut. The cutting and rolling reduces the size of the oat, therefore reducing the cooking time.

Fudgey Oatmeal Bars
1 cup quick oats
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

Stir together oats and boiling water. Set aside. Stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add shortening, oat mixture, and vanilla. Beat on low speed just until combined. Scrape bowl. Then beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Add eggs. Beat at medium for an additional 2 minutes. Pour into greased 13x9 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. (If doubling the recipe, additional baking time may be necessary.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cranberry Crumble (Recipe Included)

I have made cranberry crumble a few times in the past couple of weeks. It is a simple, delicious dessert that is always a crowd pleaser!

I love any kind of fruit cobblers, crumbles, buckles, or crisps. Some of these vary slightly, but are all essentially the same. Fall is the perfect time of the year for these types of desserts in my opinion. I love a warm bowl of this cranberry crumble with a hot cup of coffee. I use Granny Smith apples along with cranberries. This combination is pretty sour. However, the topping is very sweet to contrast the tartness of the fruit. This is another recipe that you can play around with a lot. If you don't like cranberries, omit them. You could do a lovely variety of stone fruits or berries in the summer when they are in season. Just use whatever kind of fruit that you like or whatever is available seasonally.

Crumbles originated in Britain during World War II. Because of the strict rationing of ingredients necessary to make a pie, crumbles were invented. They were so popular, though, that they stuck around. The term crisp is the American term for a crumble. A crumble is also similar to a cobbler. However, a cobbler typically has a smoother, more cake-like topping. A buckle is made with a yellow batter almost like cake batter. However, the filling is mixed in with the batter in this dish.

Cranberry Crumble
3 cups Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
2 cups raw cranberries
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

In a shallow, 2 qt casserole dish, combine cranberries and apples. Mix together lemon juice and sugar. Sprinkle over apple mixture and stir together.

1 1/3 cup quick oats
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted

Combine all these ingredients and sprinkle over apple/cranberry mixture. Bake at 350º for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I had Tiramisu to make for someone. I have to admit, I was a little nervous about this. I have not made Tirsamisu since I was in culinary school, which was about 7 years ago. I certainly hadn't made anything this complicated in a long time. It turned out not to be too difficult with just a few classic techniques. And it was quite delicious!

Tiramisu really only has two major components. First is the ladyfingers or Savoiardi in Italian. A lot of recipes call for store bought ladyfingers. I would NEVER buy ladyfingers in a store to make this luscious dessert. Firstly, I think that they would be much too hard to absorb the liquid in
which you soak them. Secondly, obviously they are not as delicious as homemade ladyfingers. Ladyfingers are a fairly complicated cookie to make. They are not just a straightforward mix and scoop cookie. I was a little intimidated when I looked at my recipe for these simple little cookies. I actually had to go back in my baking book from school and refresh myself on the mixing technique. I use a lot of the recipes in my baking book, but rarely do I need to go back and read up on techniques. It is a variation on what is called the sponge mixing method. First you must heat the egg yolks and sugar over a double boiler. Then they are whipped for quite some time. Then, in a separate bowl, you whip egg whites. They are then folded into the egg yolk mixture along with some flour. The batter is piped onto parchment lined baking sheets and baked. Ladyfingers are a rather involved cookie, but they turned out beautifully and tasted delicious.

The next step is not really a major component, but it is an important step. The ladyfingers must be soaked in syrup. There are a few options. A classic recipe would call for a mixture of simple syrup and espresso and often a sweet liquor. I chose to use straight Kahlua in this particular recipe. I chose Kahlua mainly because my espresso machine is packed away, but also because I knew that the person that I was making this for liked it with Kahlua. It obviously is not kid friendly if you use Kahlua though.

The second major component is a delicious light mixture of mascarpone cheese, eggs, and whipped cream. My arm was very tired from folding in cream after making it. I chose a method that you cook the eggs slowly for a bit of time over a water bath on the stove. Many classic
recipes for Tiramisu call for raw eggs, but I prefer to cook them. They must be stirred constantly though so that they do not scramble. Mascarpone cheese is then stirred in. Then, whipped cream is folded in. You layer the ladyfingers that have been soaked with the syrup with the mascarpone mixture. Top that with some cocoa powder. Voila! You have Tiramisu! This is definitely not a beginner's dessert, but don't be afraid to try it! The first time you try it, use store bought ladyfingers and try to perfect your mascarpone cream. You can only learn if you try!

Tiramisu's origin is debated. It may be a variation of the zuppa inglese which is the Italian take on a classic English trifle. One might think of it as a very traditional Italian dessert. It is a very popular dessert, but it does not date back that far. Some claim that the first documented mention of Tiramisu in a published work appears in a 1971 article by Giuseppe Di Clemente. It was mentioned in a 1983 cookbook by Giovanni Capnist called I Dolci Del Veneto. Merriam- Webster's online dictionary gives 1982 as the first mention of the dessert.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Russian Tea Cakes (Recipe Included)

I recently made a batch of these tasty little cookies. I have not made them since my last job as a pastry chef, and that was before I had kids, so almost 4 years ago.

I like to change things up when I make cookies. I often tweak things according to my own likes and dislikes. This is a great recipe to switch up. The recipe calls for chopped nuts, but I substituted toasted coconut this time. You can choose any nuts that you like. They are super delicious when made with macadamia nuts! A lot of people also put chopped maraschino cherries in their Russian Tea Cakes. These cookies pair very well with coffee or tea. So, if you want a tasty little cookie for the holidays or to go with coffee when your friend is visiting, these cookies are a great one for you to try.

Russian Tea Cakes appeared in Russia in the 18th century. They were used as a confection in tea-sharing ceremonies. They became quite popular in the US during the 20th century, appearing at weddings and included in Christmas cookie trays. They later became known as "Mexican Wedding Cookies" possibly due to the strained relations with the Soviet Union.

Russian Tea Cakes
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Beat the butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Add flour and salt. Stir in nuts. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased sheet. Bake 8-9 minutes or until set. Do not let them get brown. Immediately roll in powdered sugar. Cool completely. Roll in powdered sugar again when cool.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I love muffins. If you are a loyal reader of my blog, you probably realize by now that I love most baked goods. Muffins are tasty, and I don't feel too guilty when I eat them.

I like to buy the bags of bananas filled with unwanted bananas at the grocery store that are super cheap. It is a bag of at least 3 pounds of bananas for .99. You cannot beat that! They often have a little bruising or are a single banana that no one is going to buy. This is the perfect time to make banana bread or muffins. Also, you can peel and freeze them. Then you have bananas to use for baking any time you need them. I always make some mini muffins and some regular size muffins. Mini muffins are the perfect size snack for my older daughter. I make half with chocolate chips, Ghirardelli bittersweet chips of course ;) And I also make some with chocolate chips and walnuts. As I have mentioned in the past, quick bread recipes are super easy to tweak to your liking. You could put peanut butter chips in instead of chocolate chips. Just tailor the recipe to your liking!

Cavendish is the variety of banana that is most common as an export. That is the variety that we get in our grocery stores. This cultivar gained popularity in the 1950s after the previous mass-produced cultivar, Gros Michel, became commercially inviable due to a fungus that attacks the roots of the banana plant called Panama Disease. Ease of transport and shelf life rather than superior taste make the Cavendish the main export banana.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shortbread Logs

I made a few new kinds of cookies recently. I am always trying to find new favorite recipes. I especially like finding new cookie recipes that I can add to my list of Christmas cookies!!! I liked this recipe especially because of it's versatility.

Shortbread cookies are an easy cookie that you can do lots of fun things with. I rolled my dough into logs, but you could roll them into any shape that you like. You could roll them into a wreath shape and decorate them for Christmas. You could shape them into a pretzel. Any shape that you could think of, you can do with shortbread dough. I dipped some into melted semi-sweet chocolate. And I also drizzled chocolate over some of them. You could sprinkle ground nuts or sprinkles on the chocolate before it dries. You could use white chocolate and sprinkle them with crushed peppermint candies. Because shortbread cookies are so mild in flavor, you can really do whatever you want with them. They are definitely a fun cookie to experiment with.

Ever wonder why shortening is called shortening or why shortbread is called shortbread? The term short in baking refers to a crumbly texture achieved by a high fat content. I have mentioned in the past that when you mix doughs with flour in them, the gluten develops and lengthens. A high fat content prevents the formation of long protein (gluten) strands, therefore creating a crumbly or "short" texture.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

No-Roll Coconut Sugar Cookies (Recipe Included)

I have been making cookies for an order for a friend. She is working on an awesome project called Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera. Check it out here.

I tried this new recipe for a yummy no-roll sugar cookies. I made them a few nights ago. I used the regular size cookie scooper that I usually use. Unfortunately, the cookies were much too large and all ran together on the cookie sheet. The ladies in my playgroup got to enjoy these tasty, but not too attractive cookies yesterday morning at playgroup. I made them with a smaller size scoop last night, and they were just right. I am not a huge fan of the sugar cookies that you roll out and cut out with cookie cutters. I just think they are kinda boring. I thought these sounded interesting because they had coconut in them which adds a nice texture. You can't really taste the coconut, but you can definitely tell that there is coconut in them from the texture. I loved them, and it seems as though everyone who has had one has loved them too. I scooped them with a cookie scoop, then rolled them into a nice, smooth ball. After that, I dipped a glass in sugar and pressed the cookie flat. You could use colored sugar for the holidays if you like. You could use coarse sugar for added texture. You can easily tint your own sugar whatever color you like as well. Just pour some sugar into a bowl. I prefer to do this with coarse sugar. Add as much gel food coloring as you like in whatever color that you like. Just rub the sugar and gel coloring together between your palms. I always use food safe gloves to do this.

The word cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje or (informal) koekie which means little cake. Cookies seem to have been around for as long as baking has been documented. This is most likely due to the fact that they travel very well. However, they were usually not sweet enough to be considered cookies by today's standards. Cookies appear to have originated in Persia in the 7th Century AD. This was shortly after the use of sugar became common in the region. They spread to Europe through the Muslim conquest of Spain. By the 14th century, they were common in all levels of society in Europe. You could find them as part of royal cuisine and being sold by street vendors.

No-Roll Coconut Sugar Cookies
1 cups sugar
1 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat sugar, butter, coconut, and vanilla until well combined. Add flour, soda, and salt. Stir together. Scoop with cookie scoop, then roll into even ball. Place 3 inches apart on ungreased sheet. Use a measuring cup or the bottom of a glass to flatten each cookie. I press the bottom of the glass into the dough first to make it sticky, then dip it in sugar before flattening each cookie slightly. Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden. Let them cool slightly on pan, then remove to wire rack.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thumbprint Cookies

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I have been making cookies for a friend's wedding. Her favorite cookies are thumbprints. I made a total of 32 dozen cookies. 27 dozen of them were thumbprints.

Thumbprint cookies are one of my favorite cookies because of their versatility. You just have to find a recipe for the actual cookie that you like. I often find great recipes here. I always roll mine in walnuts, but you could really roll them in anything. My nephew is allergic to nuts, so my sister uses coconut. You could use sesame seeds or sprinkles or nothing at all. Also, you can use any kind of filling that you like. I used black raspberry jam, sweet white icing, and chocolate. Just use your imagination. If you love turtles, roll them in pecans. Then fill them with caramel and top that with chocolate icing. Just think of a combination that you like and try it. Also, if you are using jam, you should put it in while the cookies are warm. Otherwise, let the cookies cool first. (Note: You can wait to fill them with jam too if you are not serving them within a day or two. Jam will soften them over time, so if you are making the cookies ahead of time, fill them closer to serving.)

Thumbprint cookies's origins are not quite clear. Some people say they have Eastern European Jewish roots. Others claim they originated in Poland. In older cookbooks, they were called Thimble Cookies because a thimble was used to make the indentation in the cookie. They still may be called many different names including Butterballs and Polish Tea Cakes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coconut Joys (Recipe Included)

I have been busy making cookies for a dear friend's wedding. This is Pittsburgh. We have tons and tons of homemade cookies at weddings :) She has requested thumbprints, but I also decided to make some coconut joys which taste just like Mounds candy bars.

As I have said before, I love making cookies. These cookies are especially easy because they do not require baking. I do not love coconut, but I do love these cookies. They are simply delicious. I could just sit and eat a whole plateful of them. I believe the original recipe called for making indentations in them and filling them with melted bittersweet chocolate. I just use the bigger size Ghirardelli bittersweet chips and push it into the center. (See recipe below.) You can buy these chips in a three pound bag for around $9.00 at Sam's Club. These are a staple at my house. I use these in so many recipes.

In Pittsburgh, it is traditional to have cookies at weddings. We have tables and tables filled with old fashioned, homemade cookies. No one knows how this tradition got started. Many credit the Italian and Eastern European immigrants who wanted to incorporate their heritage. It was like bringing some of the Old Country into the New World on the big day. You can find these unassuming cookie tables at even the fanciest weddings here in Pittsburgh.

Coconut Joys
1/2 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
3 cups (8 oz) sweetened flaked coconut
Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips (if you are unable to find these, you could use semisweet, but most mega-marts do carry them.)

Melt butter. Add coconut and powdered sugar. Mix well. Scoop into bite size pieces and drop on wax paper. (I use my smallest cookie scoop.) Press one of the chocolate chips on top. Chill until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Devil's Food Cupcakes with Ganache

It has been too long since I have had a chance to bake or blog. My kids have been sick and sucking up every bit of my time. Luckily, they are feeling better.

I went to an event last night with my pastries and new business cards. Thanks so much to Whitney for my beautiful business cards. I really, really love them. And so does everyone who sees them :) I made a few items to be displayed along with my business cards. I made mini chocolate chip cookies, my dark chocolate brownies, and mini devil's food cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache. They were all quite yummy!

Mini cupcakes are such a great treat. And they are super quick and easy. I don't even use a mini cupcake pan. I just buy the foil cups and place them right on a baking sheet. I can get 40 into the
oven at the same time. Here's a great tip to know whether your cupcakes are done: touch them. If you leave a fingerprint, they are not done. If the cake springs back when you touch it, they are done! I made a very simple bittersweet chocolate ganache for the top of them. Ganache is such an easy icing to make. It is simply heavy cream and chocolate. Some recipes have additional ingredients like corn syrup or extracts. The only thing with ganache is that you have to have a little bit of extra time to let it set up. After it is made, it has to be chilled until it is the right consistency to spread on a cupcake. But I promise you, it is definitely worth it :)

In the first half of the 19th century, "chocolate" cake was either yellow or spice and meant to accompany a chocolate beverage. Cakes with chocolate in them became rather common in the second half of the 19th century and were very similar to devil's food. The first recipe for devil's food cake appeared in 1900. After that, there was a recipe or reference to the cake in almost every cookbook. The cake was named "devil's food" because it is so rich and delicious that it must be somewhat sinful.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rice Pudding (Recipe Included)

My girls and I were going to a friend's house for a play date a few days ago. I had made salad to take, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to make a sweet treat to share. It was a chilly day, so I decided to make one of my favorite treats when the weather is cold, rice pudding! Mmm, mmmm, so comforting on a cold day.

I love any kind of pudding. I like baked puddings. I like pudding parfaits. I like custard. I even like the cook and serve kind out of a box. Of course, I prefer homemade, but, I will not pass up the store bought kind. To me, there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of pudding, especially a bowl of warm rice pudding. This is not something that I grew up with. We never really ate rice pudding. But I really have developed a love for it. I could eat it in cold weather or hot weather. It is simply delicious. I know there are a lot of variations on recipes for rice pudding. Some people use pre-cooked rice. Some people make it on a stove like a real pudding. I definitely prefer the baked kind. My recipe is super easy too because you do not have to cook the rice beforehand. Also, puddings are always richer if you use whole milk, but I generally just use whatever I have on hand. If I decide to make rice pudding last minute, I will just use the 2% that I have in the refrigerator. If I know ahead of time that I am going to make it, I will buy whole milk. You could just use whatever you have or whatever you prefer. You could sure cut out a lot of fat by using 1% or 2% instead of whole milk.

Rice pudding is found in almost every area around the world. Recipes vary greatly even within a single country. Rice pudding can be made with most kinds of rice. A handful of grains can expand to feed an entire family. It can be a dessert or snack, hot or cold. It is generally flavored with spices typical of the regional cuisine. You would think that being a baked or cooked pudding that it would be from the United Kingdom. However, it has roots all over the world. For example, it is extremely common in India where rice is a staple. Although we all have our own version, rice pudding is a dessert that everyone around the world has in common.

Rice Pudding
1/2 cup rice
1 qt milk
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/3 cup butter
3 eggs
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine rice with 2 cups milk in top of double boiler. Cook over hot water until rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Add raisins and butter. Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt and 2 cups milk. Stir into hot rice mixture. Pour into greased 1 1/2 qt baking dish. Combine 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour uncovered.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chocolate Chip Pie

A friend in my playgroup is expecting a baby boy any time now. Any time someone in my playgroup is nearing their due date, we throw a little shower for them. I, of course, am always responsible for the cake. This time I decided to try a new recipe. Basically, it was a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie pie. I did not love this recipe, but my husband did.

I happened to have pie dough in the refrigerator. I just had to roll it out. I like to try to keep some pie shells frozen so that I can make a single crust pie anytime I want quickly. I would NEVER, I repeat NEVER buy store bought pie crust. It tastes awful. I would rather not eat pie. Michael often tells me that I am a snob about pastries. Maybe I am, but if I am going to eat all those extra calories in a dessert, it better be delicious. Makes sense, right? If you have pie shells on hand, you can make a whole plethora of pies quickly. You could make anything from egg custard to coconut cream to pumpkin or dutch apple. Why buy something at the store when you can just grab something far more delicious right out of your freezer? Plus, when you make it yourself, you know exactly what's in it. With pie dough, it is generally only about 4 ingredients. I bet there are a lot more in the store bought kind. Just a little food for thought...

Did you ever see a recipe that called for pastry flour? There are so many different kinds of flour. Pastry flour is just one example. Ideally, pie dough should be made with pastry flour. It is a low-gluten flour. When you mix anything with flour in it, you develop the gluten or protein. The more you develop it, the tougher it becomes. Since you want pie dough to be tender and flaky, the less gluten the better. So using pastry flour and handling the dough very little yields a very tender crust. Pastry flour feels smooth and fine and can be squeezed into a lump with your hand. It is perfect for pie dough, some cookies, biscuits and muffins. You can purchase pastry flour and many other specialty flours online.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blueberry Zucchini Bread

My parents and two of my sisters are on vacation right now. Usually, Michael and I go, but with a four month old, we decided against it this year. Every year when I go, I make zucchini blueberry bread to take. It is a delicious, seasonal bread that almost everyone in my family loves. I visited my parents the day before they were leaving, and my mom had just started to make a batch of the bread. When I got there, she informed me that I was going to take over while she spent some time with the kids.

Quick breads are a nice, easy goody to make. It is fun to experiment with different flavor combinations. You can often find in baking cookbooks a generic recipe for quick breads or muffins with several variations. Have a recipe for banana nut bread but don't like nuts? Substitute chocolate chips instead. Making cranberry bread? Use orange juice instead of part of the liquid to make cranberry orange bread. Just think of whatever flavor combination that you like and tweak the recipe as needed. Go ahead, experiment. And let me know if you come up with a masterpiece!

The term quick bread refers to any type of bread that is leavened with chemical leaveners such as baking powder or baking soda. There are many external factors at work when using yeast to make dough rise. The temperature, humidity, and freshness of the yeast all play a major role in how quickly and how well bread dough rises. You do not have this problem when using chemical leaveners. They are generally uniform, reliable and quick. Almost all quick breads have 5 basic ingredients: flour, baking powder and/or baking soda, eggs, fat (butter, oil, shortening), and milk. Any other ingredients are generally for variation on texture and/or flavor. The type of bread produced varies depending on mixing method, type of fat used, different flavoring, and ratio of liquid in the batter.

Friday, September 10, 2010

M&M Cookies

I made M&M Cookies a few days ago. I ran out of time the other day when I made them. I didn't get a chance to scoop or bake all the dough. I just put the extra dough in a container. I thought I'd finish baking them this morning. Warm cookies sounded yummy on this cool autumn-like morning!

Making cookies is almost therapeutic to me. I LOVE scooping cookie dough. At my last job as a pastry chef, I was the head baker at a local university. I made lots and lots of cookies. I had student helpers all the time. I would have them do the hard jobs, which they were quite eager to learn and do, while I would scoop cookie dough. The other baker would have them scoop dough all day long. Needless to say, most of the students preferred to work for me ;) Me, I could scoop dough all day. It relaxes me. Sounds a little strange, I know. L and I make cookies all the time. She especially likes making M&M Cookies because she gets to press M&Ms on the top of the cookies. She is a little M&M obsessed anyway. Pair them with cookies, and it is just magical to her. M&M cookie dough is very versatile too. You could substitute Reese's Pieces or any candy coated bite size candy that you like.

Forrest Mars, Sr., founder of the Mars Company, got the idea for the candy in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War. He saw soldiers eating chocolate pellets that were coated with a hard shell of tempered chocolate. This kept the candies from melting. Mars received a patent for his own candy in March of 1941. Production started later that year at a factory in New Jersey. One M was for Forrest Mars, Sr. The other M was for William F. R. Murrie, president of Hershey's Chocolate. Murrie had 20% interest in the product. This allowed the candy to be made with Hershey chocolate which had control of the rationed chocolate. Originally, they were made in 5 colors: red, yellow, brown, green, and violet. They were packaged in a cardboard tube, similar to Smarties.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

We were going to an outdoor camping party last night for Labor Day. Again, I didn't know what to make. Michael suggested that I make cookies. They were truly the perfect thing to make. Cookies are easy and mess free to eat. No need for plates and utensils. Plus, I knew there would be kids there, and what kid doesn't like cookies? I decided on good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies and M&M cookies. I will save the M&M cookies for a later date though...

I truly love chocolate chip cookies. Mmmm, a warm delicious chocolate chip cookie. It doesn't get much better than that. I made them with milk chocolate chips for something different. Here is a great tip for those of you who love warm cookies as much as I do: only bake a dozen or two when you make the dough. When I make chocolate chip cookie dough just for us, I only ever bake about a dozen. We certainly don't need to eat more than that :) Then, I scoop the remaining dough as I would to bake them. I line them up on a cookie sheet and freeze them. When they are frozen, I transfer them to a freezer bag. Then you can pull out some frozen cookies any time you are craving a warm gooey cookie or if you have some unexpected company. I love having some cookie dough in my freezer.

Chocolate chip cookies were developed accidentally by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1933. She owned the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. The restaurant was extremely popular, not just for its home style meals, but also because her policy was to send a whole extra entrée home with her patrons along with her homemade cookies for dessert. It is said that Wakefield was making chocolate cookies, and upon running out of baking chocolate, she substituted broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate from Nestle. She thought it would melt and mix into the batter. It did not and the chocolate chip cookie was born. Wakefield sold the recipe to Nestle in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate chips.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Scotcheroos (Recipe Included)

It was my husband's birthday a few days ago. I let him pick anything he wants for his birthday, and he always chooses scotcheroos. They are super easy, and he loves them! I think he chooses them partly because they are easy, and he doesn't want me slaving away in the kitchen for his birthday.

Scotcheroos are kind of like a fancy rice krispie treat. They have peanut butter in them, and they have a topping of chocolate and butterscotch. Scotcheroos call for a good bit of sugar and corn syrup, plus peanut butter. This time, I cut way back on the sugar and corn syrup, and I used natural peanut butter with no sugar. The sugar, corn syrup, peanut butter mixture did not melt like it normally does, but they tasted delicious anyway. I would have included a picture of them, but my dog knocked them down off the stove and ate them before I got a chance to take a picture :) I will have to make another batch soon for my poor husband since the bad dog ate about 1/3 of them.

Butterscotch originated in Doncaster England, where Samuel Parkinson began making the confection in 1817. Parkinson's Butterscotch had royal approval and was one of Doncaster's attractions until it ceased production in 1977. In 2003, the recipe was revived by a businessman from Doncaster and his wife. The couple rediscovered the recipe on an old folded piece of paper inside a tin in their cellar. Interestingly, butterscotch is an example of a genericized trademark. It was originally a trademark of Parkinson's.

1 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 1/2 cup peanut butter
6 cups rice krispies
1- 12 oz pkg of butterscotch chips
1 c chocolate chips

Bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and cereal. Press into a greased 9x13 pan. Melt the butterscotch chips and chocolate chips together. Spread over the top. You can pop it in the refrigerator to help the chocolate set, but I would not recommend keeping them in the chill chest forever. It makes them much to hard to cut or eat :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pies aren't just for Thanksgiving! My husband's uncle turned 60 a few days ago. He LOVES pumpkin pie. I had made pumpkin pies in the past for his birthday. I skipped last year because I was pregnant, but I figured I'd get back to it this year.

I love making pies. Pies are by far my very favorite thing to bake. Cream, fruit, custard, it doesn't matter. I love them all. I think I like to make pie so much because I make good pie. A lot of people have trouble making pie dough. It is definitely something that has to be done time and time again to perfect. The real trick is to not mess with it too much. The less you work the dough, the more tender it will be. My first job as a baker, I made pies. That was pretty much all I did for the first 4 hours of every day. I definitely perfected my pie dough techniques working there. You just have to have a feel for the right consistency. Some days, the flour/shortening mixture may need a little more water than other days. My best advice to anyone who wants to make a great pie crust is to not give up. Just keep practicing. And remember, most importantly, DO NOT overwork the dough.

Pumpkin pie has a long history here in America. English settlers in the 1620s were filling hollowed pumpkin shells with milk, honey and spices and baking in hot ashes. However, it was not until 1796 that the first American cookbook was published with a recipe resembling today's pumpkin pies. American Cookery, by an American Orphan by Amelia Simmons was the first cookbook written and published in America. It was also the first cookbook to have recipes highlighting ingredients native to America. This cookbook included a recipe for "pompkin pudding." These puddings were baked in a crust and were very similar to the modern day pumpkin pie.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cream Puffs

I went to a friend's house last night for Mom's Night Out. I debated all day about what to make as I always do. I never know what to make. I look through all my recipes over and over again. I ask everyone what I should make, but when they suggest something, I usually do not want to make that. My mom suggested that I make cream puffs. At first, I did not think that I had enough time. In my mind, they are time consuming. I would have to make the pastry cream, then the choux paste. Then I would have to fill them. In the end I did decide to make them, and they were delicious. I hope everyone else enjoyed them as much as I did!

As a kid, cream puffs were always a dessert that we wanted but rarely had. My grandma made them occasionally, but not all that often. She baked all the time, and she loved sweets. Sounds a lot like me :) When she made them, she would scoop the insides out before she filled them. My sisters and I loved to eat what she scooped out. It was our favorite part. I don't take the insides out of mine. I just poke a small hole in the side and fill them with a pastry bag. They always seemed to me like they were so hard to make. In reality, they are not very difficult, slightly time consuming maybe, but not difficult. Baking is sort of my escape though. I am always up for a time consuming baking challenge ;)

Pâte à Choux (pronounced pot a shoo), also known as choux or eclair paste is what is used to make cream puffs. It literally means "cabbage paste" due to the fact that cream puffs look like little cabbages. It contains only butter, flour, water, and eggs. No leavening agent is used. Instead, the high moisture content creates steam to cause the pastry to puff during the baking process. It is used to make cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles, beignets, and a whole slew of other desserts. Once you master this recipe, you can make a countless number of desserts.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dark Chocolate Brownies

So, today we went to a friend's house for a play date for L. Of course I cannot go anywhere without bringing a dessert of some kind. The ice cream man was supposed to show up for the kids, so I thought I'd make some yummy dark chocolate brownies for the mamas. I used Hershey's Special Dark cocoa (which by the way is a mixture of natural and dutch processed cocoas) instead of regular old natural cocoa. Also, I put in Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. They were quite yummy and a big hit!

A great tip for cutting brownies: use a plastic butter knife. You will get a nice clean cut. I always keep a disposable butter knife on hand to cut my brownies and bars!

Have you ever read a recipe that called for Dutch Process Cocoa? Ever wonder what the difference is? "Dutched" cocoa refers to the process of adding an alkaline to the beans during the roasting process. This process mellows the acidity of the cocoa. When using Dutch Process cocoa, an acid such as baking powder should be used. Can't find Dutch Process Cocoa? Use this substitution:
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder + 1 pinch (1/8 tsp) baking soda