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.