Friday, April 30, 2010

Whole Wheat Maple-Nut Cinnamon Buns

In an attempt to make a healthy cinnamon bun, I adapted a bread recipe for Vermont Maple Bread into a cinnamon roll. The bread is from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion.

Compared to regular cinnamon buns, they are a bit heavier and slightly less sweet. The whole wheat flour contributes a nice flavor of its own. Instead of slathering them with sugary frosting, I let their wholesome flavor shine through and was overall quite pleased with the results. I won't be abandoning my love of white flour-based cinnamon buns but these are a good alternative, even if just to reduce the guilt factor a tad.

Whole Wheat Maple-Nut Cinnamon Buns

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon maple flavor
1/4 cup butter
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour
2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast

1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, oats, maple syrup, maple flavor, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Let cool to lukewarm; this will happen naturally as you stir.

2. Add the flours and yeast, stirring to form a rough dough. Knead (about 10 minutes by hand, 7 minutes by machine, or on the dough cycle in the bread machine), enough to make a nicely springy dough.

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measuring cup, cover the bowl or cup with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 60 to 90 minutes. It should become very puffy, and just about double in bulk.

4. Gently deflate the dough, and roll it out to approximately 1/4 inch thick. Spread melted margarine over the dough and sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar, nut mixture. Slice into 12 evenly sized rolls and cover for approxmately 60 minutes until almost doubled in volume. Near the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

5. Bake the buns for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting with foil if browning too quickly. When they reach 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer they are done. Remove from the oven, and rest for 10-15 minutes before turning ouof the pan onto a rack to cool.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mini Caramilk (Chocolate n' Caramel) Tarts

You might never have heard of a Caramilk bar if you aren't Canadian. You're missing out!!! This milk chocolate bar features creamy Cadbury chocolate that encases a soft, flowing caramel filling in each square. Caramilk was first developed at the Masson Street plant in Montreal and currently is manufactured at the Cadbury Gladstone Chocolate Factory in downtown Toronto – the only place in the world where Caramilk is made.

These tarts are inspired by the Caramilk chocolate bar. They are a simple sweet fully baked pastry shell filled with melted milk chocolate ganache swirled together with creamy caramel. It's a good thing they're bite sized because they sure are rich! Note: Caramilk bars don't have almonds, I just garnished using an almond because they're pretty ;)

Mini Caramilk (Chocolate n' Caramel) Tarts
Makes 12

12 Mini Fully Baked Sweet Tartlet Shells (recipe follows)

1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp heavy cream

200g milk chocolate, chopped
3 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 tsp salt

1. Bake the shells ahead of time and cool fully.

2. Make the caramel: In a heavy based frying pan, dissolve the sugar in water over low heat. Increase the heat until the syrup turns a deep amber colour. Don't stir the pan or the sugar will crystallise - you can swirl the pan a little to cook the caramel evenly. Take off the heat and leave to cool for 1-2 minutes, then stir in the butter with the salt. Set aside for 2 minutes and then whisk in the cream, beating until smooth and glossy. Transfer to a glass bowl and chill for 15 minutes to cool and thicken.

3. Make the ganache: Heat the chocolate, cream, butter and salt in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth.
Set aside to cool a little.

4. Loosely swirl the caramel and chocolate mixtures together and to fill each tart case with a generous tablespoon. Decorate with a nut on top or a dusting of fleur de sel or leave plain as is. Serve at room temperature.

Miniature Tartlet Shells
Makes 12 – 1" shells | Adapted from Sweet Miniatures, Flo Braker

1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Put the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor bowl. Pulse a few times to blend. Scatter all the butter over the flour, pulse until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal.
2. Whisk egg and vanilla together in a small bowl. With the motor on, pour the egg mixture down the feed tube. Process until the mixture forms a ball. Remove to the lightly floured work surface, press the dough together until it is smooth and cohesive.

3. Grease 12 mini muffin tins. Either roll out the dough then fit into the tartlet tins. Or, pinch about 1 tsp of dough and press into the tins to distribute the dough evenly. Don't make shells too thick. Freeze for 15-30 minutes while the oven is preheating.

4. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees F or until lightly golden and fully baked. Cool. When cool enough to touch, remove from tins and fill as desired. The pre-baked, unfilled shells can be kept at room temperature for up to 1 week airtight.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TWD: Chockablock Cookies

These remind me a little of the now well-known featured on Regis and Kelly Compost Cookies by Momofuku's Milk Bar. No, they don't have potato chips or pretzels in them but they sure have a ton of other delicious goodies including nuts, dried fruit, coconut and 2 whole cups of chocolate chunks.

Tremendously versatile and adaptible to whatever you have on hand, these were a pleasure to make. The combination of textures and contrast of colors also makes them look pretty on a platter. I made the recipe into bars instead of cookies because I prefer the chewier, moister texture of a bar and the ease of stacking them for easy transport and serving. It's so much harder to over-bake a bar than a cookie.

For the recipe and to see what she baked up, visit TWD's Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake

This is embarrassing and totally ridiculous. I spent $70 on baking ingredients at Walmart yesterday. The crazy thing is that even though it sounds like a lot of money to spend, I came home with double the amount of stuff I could have bought in Canada. I used to think that the $20 limit on dairy products from the USA coming back into Canada was pretty high but now I find myself exceeding it and hoping they don't ask me too many questions about the break-down of my spending. Did you know you are only allowed 2 dozen eggs per person?

Other than spending way too much and feeling guilty about it now, I had an amazing day. My 'day of freedom'! I felt like a teenager again. My ex had my son for the weekend and I had nobody to be accountable to but MOI. It felt amazing. I haven't felt so light and carefree in a very very long time. I went where I wanted to, I ate where/when/what I wanted to, I turned off my cell phone and basically disappeared for 13 hours. OK, enough about my trip, back to this delicious cake-mix-based cake.

The recipe comes from a Duncan Hines book that is quite similar to The Cake Mix Doctor. However, I dare say it's better! After all, it bears the Duncan Hines name on it and aren't they THE cake mix people? If you're in a cake mix mood (or come across some cake mix on sale like I did at Walmart), try this recipe. It works with any kind - yellow, white, butter pecan, etc.

**Tip** Make extra streusel topping and store in the freezer. Then it's easy and right at your fingertips when you want to add that little extra to muffins. It's also a time saver (and saves me from dragging out the food processor) when you find yourself unexpectedly in the mood to make coffee cake!

I brought this cake to work and a few comments I got were:
"Shh.... I had 4 pieces, it's so good!"
"OMG. I love you and hate you all at the same time for bringing this in."
"There goes my diet!"

Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake
9x13 inch cake | adapted from Duncan Hines' Cake Mix Magic

1 pkg (18.25 oz) yellow cake mix
1 pkg vanilla instant pudding powder
4 eggs
1 1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup oil
1 cup mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 9 x 13 pan.
2. Combine first 6 ingredients into a batter. Pour into prepared pan, spreading out to the edges.
3. Make streusel by mixing melted butter into flour brown sugar and rolled oats mixture so it resembles slightly clumpy wet sand. Sprinkle over batter evenly.
4. Bake 35-45 minutes until toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. This is a soft and tender cake so it might be a bit crumbly if you don't let it cool enough.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sour Cream Lemon Blueberry Muffins

So moist and flavorful. They are finely textured with a slight tang from the sour cream that complements the light lemon flavor of the muffin. They are more cake-like than muffin-like but that's maybe why I like them so much. A nutty streusel is the perfect topping to finish these off, making the tops of these muffins simply fantastic.

Sour Cream Lemon Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 | adapted from Marcy Goldman

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup shortening
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 lemon, zest and juice of
1 cup sour cream
2 tbsp milk or water

2 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups blueberries

2 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp flour

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12 muffin tins. Combine flour, powder, soda and salt in a small bowl.

2. In a separate large bowl cream together butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Add zest, juice vanilla and egg beating to combine ten add sour cream and milk/water.

3. Stir in flour mixture and blueberries very gently, until just combined. Do not over mix. Spoon into muffin tins right to the brim.

4. Prepare topping: combine melted butter, walnuts, flour and sugar until mixture is like wet sand. Add more melted butter if needed. Sprinkle muffins generously with topping, pressing into the batter to adhere. Bake 25-30 mins or until golden brown and toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs on it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oatmeal White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

Another winning recipe adapted from 400 Sensational Cookies. I am obsessed with this book and keep flipping through it, bookmarking all the cookies I want to bake. In this book there's a whole chapter dedicated to oatmeal cookies!

The ones I baked today are a variation on the wholesome classics, dressed up with nuggets of white chocolate chunks that melt in your mouth. They use old fashioned rolled oats, not instant or quick oats, for a more rugged texture. Unlike most oatmeal cookies, there's no cinnamon or nutmeg, just vanilla extract so the flavor of the white chocolate and cranberries can really shine.

Oatmeal White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
Makes 24 large | 400 Sensational Cookies

1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine flour, powder, soda and salt. In a separate bowl cream together butter, sugars using the paddle attachment until light colored. Add eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture to mixing bowland continue until just combined. Stir in oats, chocolate and dried cranberries.
3. Drop by tablespoonful onto cookie sheet. Flatten to about 1/2" thick with the bottom of a glass or your hand. Bake for 10-15 minutes watching closely that they don't burn. They are done when lightly golden on top.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TWD: Sweet Cream Biscuits

The recipe for these sweet cream biscuits was selected by Melissa of Love at First Bite. I was so glad to see these come up on the TWD rotation. I have made them many many times. However, I call them scones.

You see, my dad lived in England during his college years and was spoiled by the scones they served for tea and at bake shops. He didn't like the other scone recipes I'd tried which were too dense or too dry or had so much spices added that so you couldn't taste the scone itself. For my dad, these scones are winners: lightly sweetened, tender & fluffy, not the least bit dry. They are buttery and flavorful without being overly rich. My dad is a traditionalist and favors raisin/currant scones. I personally like orange zest and dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots and almonds.

Scones vs. Biscuits?
I don't have a conclusive answer. To me it's all the same but some say that scones tend to be richer, including both eggs and cream in the recipe, though not always. Some biscuit recipes enrich the dough with eggs, but use milk or buttermilk instead of cream. Scones also use a bit more liquid than regular biscuits, which make them a bit more cake-like. While biscuit recipes may not call for sugar, scones typically use sugar. Lastly, scones are usually served with coffee and tea or as a dessert, biscuits are served more as a side bread often with breakfast.

**TIP** It helps to freeze these (and all other scones) on the baking sheet after shaping but prior to baking. This makes for a flakier biscuit/scone as the fat gets frozen and then melts into nice layers when it's baked.

**TIP**If you want to use fresh fruit you might want to reduce the liquid in the recipe by a couple tablespoons so the dough doesn't end up too wet.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Peanut Butter-Sour Cream Bundt Cake

I know, you're probably thinking - 'ANOTHER peanut butter recipe!?"

Yes I'll admit I have been slightly obsessed with PB lately. However, I read that food cravings can be your body's way of telling you that you are lacking certain vitamins or minerals. Craving PB could mean I'm low on B-vitamins. Nice excuse to eat more of this cake, eh!? Sure, I'll go along with that idea. Makes me wonder what deficiencies a chocolate craving would signify! lol

This recipe is adapted from a great little book called Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman, 2009. Non-fussy, wholesome, dependable cake recipes for everyday baking. A nice combination of solid classic recipes and updated flavor pairings. 100 recipes might not sound like a lot but it really is when all the recipes are winners like in this book (as far as I've tried and from others' feedback).

This cake has a fine, tight crumb and lovely texture. The batter is thick but the finished product is surprisingly not too heavy. It was sooo difficult waiting for this to cool enough to invert and eat. The smell of sweet peanut butter that filled my kitchen was just amazing.

Peanut Butter-Sour Cream Bundt Cake
10" Bundt | adapted from Cake Keeper Cakes

1 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter (I used crunchy)
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

8 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp chopped peanuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan and dust with flour. Whisk together the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla in a large glass measuring cup. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

2. Combine the butter, peanut butter, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.

3. With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. Add 1/2 of the sour cream mixture. Repeat, alternating flour and sour cream mixtures, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and beat for 1 minute.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

5. Glaze: Place the chocolate and butter in a double-boiler. Heat until melted. Whisk in cream until smooth. Pour/spread the warm glaze over the cake and sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the glaze. Let stand until the glaze is set. Store airtight at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chipotle Cheese Biscuits

The aroma of baked cheese always makes me hungry... even when I'm really not hungry, ya know what I mean? Yum. These ones had a nice kick from the chipotle and the jalapenos. The best part was definitnely biting into the pockets of melty cheddar sandwiched between the tender biscuit crumb.

Ever since I noticed this Chipotle Chili Powder in the spice aisle I've been sprinkling it on just about everything. Quesadillas, chipotle mayo, on steamed veggies and today baked right into these biscuits. In my opinion the best thing about spices is that they impart so much flavor with so few accompanying calories - zero in most cases! So I go right ahead and sprinkle them on guilt-free.

There's no butter or eggs in this recipe. All the moisture and fat comes from the heavy cream so make sure you don't go light or substitute a lower fat cream.

Chipotle Cheese Scones
Makes 10 wedges

3 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp oil (for sautéeing jalapenos)
3 jalapeno peppers, minced, no seeds/ribs (more if you like)
1 cup sharp cheddar, coarsely grated or chopped
2 cups heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, chipotle and salt in a large bowl.
3. Sauté jalapeno peppers until softened slightly. Cool slightly then add to flour mixture along with cheddar cheese. Stir to combine.
4. With a rubber spatula, stir in heavy cream until just combined. Roll out on a floured surface to about 1/2-3/4" thick. Cut into wedges. Brush with more cream if desired. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Orange Cranberry Sticky Breakfast Rolls

This recipe came about when I found a can of whole berry cranberry sauce that needed to be used. I must have bought it before I learned to make my own.

If you like marmalade you will like these. The orange juice, rind and sugar carmellize into a sticky topping. The cranberries are plump AND moist.

Orange Cranberry Sticky Breakfast Rolls
Makes 2 dozen

3 tablespoons active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 cup butter, diced
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups scalded milk
2 egg, lightly beaten
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons orange zest

1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp orange zest

1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Combine the diced butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the hot milk, and mix to dissolve the butter. Let stand until lukewarm.
2. Mix the yeast, eggs, 2 tbsp zest and flour into the milk mixture to form a sticky dough. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.
3. Remove dough from the refrigerator 2 to 2 1/2 hours before baking. Divide the dough into halves. Roll each half out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick rectangle.
4. Make filling while dough is rising: Mix the cranberry sauce, sugar and 1 tbsp zest in a sauce pan. Simmer to combine flavors and dissolve sugar and thicken slightly. Spread cooled filling over the dough. Roll up the dough along the long edge. Cut the rolls into one inch slices and place in a greased pan. Let rise until doubled in bulk.
5.Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Milk Chocolate Brownies with Milk Chocolate Ganache

These were surprisingly delicious! We've become so trained to think dark chocolate is the ultimate decadence. The higher the cocoa % the better. Valhrona, Ghirardhelli, Lindt... yes they are amazing, but this recipe is proof that milk chocolate definitly still has a place in my heart and on my palate. One bite of these and POOF, all that dark chocolate snobbery went out the window!

They were great brownies, period. Even without any nuts as you would normally expect in brownies. They had a shiny top, fudgy texture and tons of flavor. There's milk chocolate melted right into the batter as well as chunks of it stirred in just before baking. Because of the milk chocolate they were sweeter and lighter in color than "regular" brownies. I made them even more indulgent by topping them with milk chocolate ganache.

I would definitly make these again and again. They are also a hit with kids and presentation is easy as the frosting cuts cleanly after it is fully set, if you can wait that long. If you can't, that's OK too as these are just as delicious served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (and extra ganache drizzled on top).

Gourmet, I miss you. This recipe is another reminder of how sad I am that it's gone. I guess my Bon Appétit subscription will have to suffice :)

Milk Chocolate Brownies
1 - 9" pan | adapted from Gourmet, Feb 2007

1/2 cup butter
8 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1. With oven rack in middle position, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9" square baking pan.

2. Melt butter and half of chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring, until smooth. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Stir in brown sugar, instant coffee powder and vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, until mixture is glossy and smooth.

3. Whisk together remaining ingredients, then stir into chocolate mixture. Stir in remaining chocolate. Spread batter in pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs adhering, 25 to 30 minutes.

Milk Chocolate Ganache
1 cup | adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum

6 oz. (1 cup) milk chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. In the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate almost fully, stirring often. Add the heavy cream and stir to incorporate into the chocolate until smooth. It might look too thin but it will thicken up to a fudge-like consistency when cooled.

2. Spread warm ganache over fully cooled - chilled is better if you have time - brownies and refrigerate to set. Serve either straight from the fridge or at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TWD: Lemon-Vanilla Swedish Visiting Mini-Cakes

Having no oven proof skillet, I baked the recipe in 12 very well greased 3-inch mini tart tins. There's something so charming about their understated elegance accented by a smattering of slivered almonds on top. I kept saying over and over, "they are so cute!" and was totally impressed that they came out looking just like the book photo.

Just as Dorie promises, this recipe couldn't be quicker: 1-bowl and no electric mixer required! I had these sitting on the counter ready to be baked before the oven had even finished preheating. I swapped lemon extract for the almond extract to enhance the lemon zest already in the recipe. They had a pleasant, light flavor to them making them a great accompaniment to a hot cup of tea.

This recipe was chosen by Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs from p. 197 of Baking: From My Home to Yours

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nutty Chocolate Crunch Candy Bars

These are salty, sweet, chocolaty and crunchy all at once. They remind me of a cross between a nut brittle and a fudge, even if that sounds kinda difficult to picture. Cut them in small pieces - they're rich!!!

Nutty Chocolate Crunch Candy Bars
9 x 13" pan | Adapted from Bars and Squares

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp corn syrup
2 cups semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped salted mixed nuts

1/4 cup slivered almonds, for sprinkling

1. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with greased foil or a silicone baking mat. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the prepared pan.

2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan melt the butter, sugar and corn syrup over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn up heat a little bit, watching carefully and stirring occasionally. When mixture begins to brown add in the chopped nuts. Continue heating until mixture turns a deep golden brown color - don't burn it!

3. Immediately remove from heat and pour over chocolate chips in pan. With a rubber spatula smooth out to desired thickness (I did mine 1/3"). Sprinkle immediately with slivered almonds, pressing into candy so they stick. Cool fully before scoring and cutting bars. You can cheat here and put them in the fridge to speed up the process if you like.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Butter-Tarts

I've been doing some Easter-Egg hunting of my own the past few days. Grocery stores are selling Easter candy at discounts of 50% off or more so I've been scooping up pastel M&M's, foil-wrapped lilliput eggs and Reese's PB bunnies. I'll admit, a few of the PB bunnies were sacrificed in the making of these tarts but it's all for a good cause: dessert!

This recipe was heavily adapted from the recipe for Chocolate Mixed-Nut Pie by Better Homes and Gardens. I have so many 'all-purpose' cookbooks - JOY, Betty Crocker, Gourmet Today, America's Test Kitchen - that I have developed a blind spot for this 3-ring-bound kitchen stand-by. I had forgotten what a wealth of recipes it contained.

Flaky pastry encases a sensory delight of flavors and textures. Melty chunks of Reese's pb cups (in my case, PB bunnies) are suspended in a buttery creamy filling. Salted peanuts provide a nice crunch and add depth to these rich little treats.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Butter-Tarts
Makes 24 | adapted from Better Homes & Gardens

1 batch - Double Crust Pie Dough
3 eggs
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups chopped salted peanuts
1 cup coarsely chopped peanut butter cups

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled pastry dough to 1/4" thick. Lightly grease 24 standard sized muffin tins or tart tins. Cut pastry into circles and place into prepared tins, pressing the pastry up the sides slightly.

2. For filling: In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly. Whisk in corn syrup, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the nuts and the peanut butter cup pieces. Spoon Pour filling into pastry-lined tart tins, filling right to the top. I pur 2 tbsp filling in each tart tin and ended up with 23 tartlets.

3. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until center seems set when gently shaken. Cool on a wire rack. Store in refrigerator and drizzle with melted chocolate and a dollop of sweetened whipped cream to serve, if desired.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Quick Raspberry Cream Cheese Brioche Ring

This recipe (from Cook's Illustrated) looks long and time consuming but it's really simple and would make a great Sunday morning breakfast treat. Cream cheese is one of my favorite ingredients. This brioche ring reminds me a bit of a sweet cheese danish. Both the dough and the filling are made in the food processor. A push of a button and you get rewarded with pillowy soft brioche with minimal effort.

Quick Brioche Dough
Makes 1 ring | Cooks Illustrated Sept/Oct 1995

1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm milk (about 110 degrees)
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

1. In small bowl, whisk yeast into milk, then stir in 1 cup of flour. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

2. Put butter, sugar, and salt in workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade. Pulse at 1-second intervals, scraping sides of bowl several times, until mixture is soft and smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and process after each addition until fully incorporated (even though mixture may look curdled). Add remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and yeast mixture from step 1, scraping sides of workbowl with rubber spatula. Pulse at 1-second intervals to form soft, smooth dough. Then process continu-ously for 15 seconds.

3. Turn dough (sticky at this point) out onto generously floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Place dough into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Make filling (below).

4. Shaping: Roll the chilled dough into an 8-by-18-inch rectangle. Spread the dough evenly with raspberry jam and cream cheese filling, leaving a 1 1/2" border on the long side farthest from you. Beginning at the long side nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Transfer the cylinder, seam side down and coiling it to fit, onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicone liner. Cover with greased plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. Mark the cylinder top at 1 1/2" intervals, then use scissors to cut almost, but not quite all the way through the cylinder. Turn each piece of dough, cut side up. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let it rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour.

5. While the dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the ring until it is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Drizzle with a simple icing sugar and milk icing if desired.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Filling
Makes enough for 1 ring

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons flour

1 cup raspberry jam

1. Process cream cheese with sugar in workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade until smooth. Add remaining ingredients; pulse until fully incorporated. Refrigerate until ready for use.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls

I have been wanting to make my own spring rolls for a while now and I finally tackled this project over the long weekend. When I was looking for recipes I ran into the issue of egg rolls versus spring rolls. Are they the same thing?

From what I've read, the difference basically comes down to the wrappers. Egg rolls use a slightly thicker wrapper made with egg versus the paper-thin rice paper wrappers of spring rolls. They are also more substantial, often containing meat (ground pork) whereas spring rolls traditionally are packed solely with vegetables. The last twist is that spring rolls and egg rolls are fried but their cousin, the summer roll, is not. I felt adventurous so I also made some Summer Rolls for a nice, light lunch. Check out this post coming soon.

I adapted this recipe from Rasa Malaysia and Recipezaar. I was happy with the results but the key recommendation I would make is to TASTE IT as you go so the filling is perfectly seasoned the way you like it before you roll and fry.

Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls
Makes 24 - 5" rolls

4 cups (approx 1/3) green cabbage, chopped into thin pieces
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 cup (approx 4) fresh shiitake mushrooms, julienned (or rehydrated dried shiitakes)
1 cup (approx 4) button mushrooms, julienned or 1 cup extra firm tofu cubed
1 cup (approx 5) green onions, chopped
1 cup (approx 1) carrot, grated

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp chinese rice wine
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp white pepper
2 tsp cornstarch

spring roll wrappers
oil for deep frying

1. Combine all the vegetables in a large mixing bowl. Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

2. Heat some vegetable oil, about 2 tbsp, in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté your vegetables in the hot oil until quite soft. Push the veggies to the side of the pan and add your sauce. Toss to coat and continue cooking until veggies are fully cooked and sauce is well distributed throughout. Taste and adjust seasoning as you like.

3. Lay the spring roll wrapper with one of the corners facing you and spoon in 1/4 cup filling. Lightly moisten all 4 corners of the wrapper with a dab of water. Fold the bottom point over the filling, fold in the two sides and roll up (like a burrito). Set aside until all of them are rolled and you're ready to fry. (I lay them on a silicone mat covered loosely with a towel so they don't dry out).

4. In a deep fryer or in a heavy pot, heat 2" of canola oil to 375 degrees F. Deep fry spring rolls in small batches for 3-4 minutes. You don't need very long because all you are doing is crisping the wrappers since the filling is fully cooked. Drain on paper towels or paper bags. Serve with plum sauce or soy sauce.

**These refrigerate/freeze well. Just zap for a few seconds in the microwave to heat then re-crisp in the oven.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

Refreshing, light and fast to assemble (once you've got the ingredients all prepped). Plus, any excuse to eat this sweet-salty-spicy peanut sauce by the spoonful gets 2 thumbs up from me! These may not be 100% authentic but they're yummy!

For a shortcut this recipe uses a ready-to-eat shrimp cocktail ring but feel free to cook your own shrimp instead. Have all your ingredients ready and easily accessible when you start to roll. Store the rolls without them touching as they will stick together. Place a damp paper towel in the bottom of the container to keep the rolls moist. Cover with moistened paper towel and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.

Little tidbit of info: Summer rolls are the lighter, healthier cousin of spring rolls except they are not deep-fried and they are served cold. They are also known as Salad rolls. Also check out my blog post following this one for the deep-fried spring roll type.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Makes 16

1/2 shrimp cocktail ring
1 cup chopped imitation crab
2 ounces dried rice sticks or rice vermicelli
16 (8-1/4") round rice paper wrappers
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts, rinsed
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup julienned seeded cucumber, peeled
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup (2 large) scallions, sliced
4 lettuce leaves, cut in thin strips
Peanut Sauce, for dipping

1. Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. Clear a work surface such as a large wooden cutting board for rolling the summer rolls, and prepare a pan that is roomy enough to hold the finished rolls in a single layer. Place all filling ingredients in separate containers and arrange them in the following order around the work surface: rice paper wrappers, shrimp, rice noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro, cucumber, scallions, and lettuce.
3. Fill a wide, shallow dish large enough to hold the rice paper wrappers with hot water. Evenly submerge one wrapper for about 30 seconds, or until it is soft and pliable. Remove from the water and place on the work surface.
4. Working quickly, lay 3 shrimp in a row just above the center of the wrapper. Layer all the remaining ingredients (except peanut sauce) on top, careful not to over-fill. Just a little of each ingredient in each roll.
5. Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top.
6. Turn each roll so that the seam faces downward and the row of shrimp faces up. Serve with Peanut Sauce (below).

Peanut Sauce
Makes 3/4 cup

1/2 cup peanut butter – either smooth or crunchy
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (or extra 2 tsp brown sugar)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 garlic clove, mashed
1 tsp chilli sauce (sri racha)
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tsp lime juice
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to combine, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. This can be prepared in advance and tastes even better a day later. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

TWD: Chocolate Almond Bundt Cake

It feels like Monday today rather than Tuesday. Long weekends have a way of messing with my internal clock and it always takes me a little while to slide back into routine. No complaints though - it was an awesome weekend. Beautiful sun for most of the weekend meant we got to go bike/tricycle riding in the park. However, it did snow unexpectedly for a few hours on Saturday night but didn't stick.

This is honestly one of the most delicious bundt cakes I have had in a while. It was so moist and it sliced beautifully. It reminded me of a pound cake. Instead of walnuts I used almonds and was very pleased with the almond-roca flavor I got. The only change I would recommend is to omit the 2 tbsp butter used when melting the chocolate. It's not needed and I even found some of the chocolate swirl parts a little oily because of it.

This week's fun-to-bake (and even more fun-to eat) pick was by Erin of When in doubt... Leave it at 350, found on p.180-181 of Dorie Greenspan's book - Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cafe Style Best Ever Banana Bread -

At age 15, I landed my first job working in a café. It was the perfect place for me. I have always loved baking and this couldn't have been a better fit. I miss those days. My co-workers were an amazing group of people and we often hung out outside of work. There were just a handful of us working there and it was extremely busy but very rewarding.

I have gotten some great recipes for café food - wraps, sandwiches, pastas, baked goodies. One of the best sellers was this banana bread. We used to mix 6-loaf batches of it by hand. I must have built some serious arm muscles doing that, let me tell you! I'm glad I have Kitchen Aid mixer now to help me out.

Even if you already have your favorite "go-to" banana bread recipe, I still urge you to try this one out. It's extremely moist, full of banana flavor with a beautiful deep brown color and slightly crisp top crust. I like to slice it, wrap each slice in saran wrap and freeze it to be thrown into lunchbags later in the week.

One bite of this brings back fond memories and a whole lot of nostalgia for me. My only regret is that I am not in touch with these girls. I often wonder where their lives have taken them and if they too think back on those days with a smile on their faces. I wonder if they still make this banana bread!

Best Ever Banana Bread
1 loaf

2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mashed bananas
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
2.Blend together the eggs, buttermilk, oil and bananas.
3.Sift together the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt. Add to banana mixture and stir in nuts/chocolate. Mix well.
4.Pour into prepared pan and bake 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.