A mom's journal of the sweet things in her life...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

It seems that everyone has their long standing favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. The one they pull out whenever they feel the urge. Everyone except me. I'm too fickle. I don't have a favorite. Yet. So many bakers and bloggers claim that they have "the" best recipe. I, on the other hand, want it noted that I have never made such a claim. Not once. I'm happy to try them all out though, I'll call it my research. That will make me feel important. 
Today I wanted to bake cookies to take to our very first play/lunch date of the summer. But with so many recipes out there, I had a hard time deciding which one to try. I settled on Alton Brown's chocolate chip cookie, I found it on the Joy the Baker blog. Can I just say that I love that blog?! She makes me giggle and I'm not a giggler. Ask my sister. Anyway, Joy says it's her favorite recipe so I decided it was going to be the one. But before I get into the cookie recipe, I want to show you want I found lurking in my living room this morning.
That was not okay. This spider looks mean. It was on my vaulted ceiling. I'm five foot 3. I can't zoom on my camera and refused to get close so you do the math. All I know is that this was one big mother of a spider. And I hate spiders. They make me squeamish. So I did what any rational thirty something mother of two would do... I ran and got my husband who was just about to leave for work. He used a paper towel and grabbed the offending spider. Then he faked me out and pretended he was going to throw the paper towel at me with the spider inside. Also not okay. I bolted. I'll deal with him later.
Back to the cookies. This recipe is somewhat unconventional in that it uses melted butter and bread flour. Intriguing. It also calls for mostly brown sugar, which I like. A lot. 
You add your sugars to the melted butter in the bowl of your stand mixer and blend. Then you add an egg, an egg yolk, milk and vanilla. It looks like soup. Yummy butter and brown sugar soup.
Then you slowly add your dry ingredients, your chocolate chips and then CHILL the batter. I think this step is very important since the butter is melted. It was a very soft gooey batter and after chilling for about 45 minutes, it was ready to. The recipe says to bake only 6 at a time, I was able to fit 9. It also says to bake for 14 minutes and I pulled mine out at 10. Clearly, my cookies were smaller than what is provided for in the recipe.
The verdict? These cookies are amazing. I loved them. I ate a lot of them. They were crispy on the edges, soft and tender in the middle, and they had a rich butterscotch flavor. Very nice. No complaints. Are they the best CCC ever? I have no idea! I've only just begun my 'research'. But I can say this recipe is a keeper. 
Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Source: Alton Brown via Joy the Baker blog)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 1/4 cup bread flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla 
2 cups chocolate chips
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
Pour melted butter and sugars into the bowl of a stand mixer and cream on medium speed. Add egg, yolk, milk and vanilla. Mix till combined. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Chill the dough.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough, 6 cookies per sheet, (or make smaller like I did) and bake for approximately 14 minutes or until golden brown. (Rotate your baking sheet after 5 minutes to ensure even browning.) Cool. Eat.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Oatmeal Lace Cookies with Mascarpone Cream & Berries

Oh, Freedom!  School's out for my daughter and I could not be happier. I stayed in bed until almost 9:00 this morning. Don't judge me. You know you'd do the same if you could. I didn't realize how limited my days were with all the driving around I typically do in a day until I woke up this morning and realized we had no where to go and all day to get there. So what did I do with my first day off?  Well, let me tell you. Since the Daring Bakers' challenge left me with an over-abundance of mascarpone cream and fresh berries in my fridge, (yes, I know, poor me, right?) I decided to make something new with it. I couldn't let that delicious sauce go to waste. The obvious choice would be to simply pour the cream over the berries and dive in, but that's too easy. I wanted something different.
I'm a real sucker for different textures and I wanted to add something crispy to the mix. I'd stumbled upon a recipe for Lace Cookies over the weekend and I knew I had to try them. This was the perfect time.
Paper thin, buttery and very crisp, they are more like candy than a cookie. These cookies are ridiculously easy to make - but there is a trick. You really must let them brown to a dark golden color. I tried pulling mine out earlier, when they were just a nice hue of gold but they were under down and impossible to peel off the foil.  So be patient...let them darken slightly beyond your comfort zone and do not attempt to peel them off the foil until they are cooled. They spread a lot during baking so you spoon a scant teaspoon per cookie on the baking sheet, and you only bake six at a time. The batter takes a mere 5 minutes to make, it's baking them off that gets a little tedious. But they're worth it. Trust me. Make these. You won't regret it.
Oatmeal Lace Cookies Recipe
(Source: A Year of the Best Cook Book)
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix sugar, flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk egg. Add rolled oats, melted butter and vanilla. Blend together. Add sugar mixture and stir.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with foil, shiny side up. Drop only 6 tsp. of batter (1 tsp. per cookie) onto sheet. (They spread a lot during baking giving them the 'lacy' appearance.) Bake 8 to 10 minutes (I did closer to 12) until they are a golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes. Peel off foil.
Yes, I did get a grape out of my fridge to show you an approximation of size. No need to thank me.
Fresh from the oven, cooling down before peeling.
Now the fun began. I scattered strawberries on a cookie...
drizzled some mascarpone cream...
added another cookie and raspberries this time.  I know, it's hard to keep up.
Are you still with me? More cream on the raspberries and yes, you guessed it, another cookie. Then I sprinkled some confectioner's sugar on top, garnished with a strawberry and a sprig of mint and Voila!
Summer heaven on a plate. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. But it was good, real good. It is a little tricky to eat, I'll admit, but if you are one of those people who's afraid of using your fingers to pick up a piece of broken cookie well then, we can't be friends. There were a few casualties in the batch, the ones I didn't bake long enough and the ones I tried to peel before they were completely cooled. So...I broke them up and sprinkled them on top of a parfait version.
Nothing wrong with that. Enjoy!
Recipe for Mascarpone Cream:
(Source: Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard)
The first step is to make the base, a creme anglaise. Here's how:
Creme Anglaise:
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean split
6 large egg yolks
6 Tbsp. sugar
Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes to make an ice water bath. Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan over medium high heat. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the pot, and add the pod as well. Bring to boil.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is a pale yellow. Pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk/cream mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly to keep the yolks from curdling. Return the yolk mixture to the pan with the remaining milk/cream over medium heat, and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan until the mixture thickens enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. (If you drag your finger through the mixture when it coats the spoon, the trace should remain.)
Remove mixture from heat and immediately strain through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Place the bowl in the ice bath to cool rapidly.

---You could stop here and just use the creme anglaise. But if you want to make it even more special, proceed with the following instructions to transform your creme anglaise to mascarpone cream.

Mascarpone Cream
1 recipe of creme anglaise (above)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
2 T. Bailey's  (optional - recipe actually calls for Sambuca, but that's just gross)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Prepare the creme anglaise as directed above. Slowly whisk in the mascarpone and booze (if you're using it), and let mixture cool. Beat the cream until it holds soft peaks. Gently fold into mascarpone mixture. Chill.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

The June 2010 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.
This month's challenge was right up my alley. Chocolate and mascarpone cheese are two of my favorite things. There were three elements to this dessert.  A chocolate pavlova base (something I had never made but was happy for the opportunity), rich chocolate mascarpone mousse, and a mascarpone cream drizzled atop. I practically did a happy dance when I read that this was what we were making for June. It was definitely a labor-intensive dessert but upon deconstructing all the different components and tackling each individually, it was not at all daunting.
The chocolate pavlovas...having never made them before and, in fact, having never even eaten one, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I've seen them made on TV a lot lately, and I was definitely eager to give these a try. They were essentially whipped egg whites, lots of sugar, and then cocoa powder and icing sugar folded in. They are then piped onto parchment lined baking sheets.
The recipe says to bake them at 200 degrees for 2 to 3 hours.  That detail was the only part that made me a little nervous. That is a rather large window of time, leaving plenty of time for disaster, which meant it was up to me, a virtual pavlova virgin, to know when to take them out. I knew from all my reading that they were supposed to be crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Mine came out after an hour and 15 minutes and they were perfect, if I do say so myself. 
Next up, chocolate mascarpone mousse. Having read other members' comments, I knew that a lot people were finding the mousse to be grainy. The recipe says to heat the cream with the lemon zest until warm. Then add the chocolate and stir till smooth. Here's what mine looked like:
Not exactly encouraging. So I threw it in the microwave for 30 seconds on 50% power and then whisked it until my arm felt like it was going to fall off.  It was well worth the effort because eventually it looked like this:
Feeling much better, I proceeded with adding the mascarpone and am happy to report that my mousse was not at all grainy.
However, upon tasting the mousse, I was worried. First of all, I have never been a fan of citrus mixed with chocolate. I thought about omitting the lemon zest altogether, but then I decided to stay true to the recipe in the spirit of the challenge. That was a mistake.  I found the lemon over-powering for my taste. I also found that the mousse wasn't sweet enough. In fact, I found it wasn't sweet at all and I wrestled over whether I should add some confectioner's sugar. Thankfully, before I took this liberty with the recipe, I tasted the pavlovas which were really, really sweet. It was then that I had one of Oprah's "Aha moments". I see where this is going now. While the pavlovas were too sweet to be enjoyed on their own, the 'unsweet' mousse balanced it off. Right. 
Moving right along, the final component was the mascarpone cream which consisted of making a creme anglaise and then whisking in mascarpone cheese and whipped cream. I made my creme anglaise a couple days before, and then finished it just before serving. As far as I'm concerned, this was the best part of the recipe. I will definitely be incorporating this into my recipe arsenal and serving it with fresh berries. It was the one component that was delicious on its own. 
For serving, I added a handful of fresh raspberries. Initially, this was purely for esthetics, I knew it would need some color. But again, the raspberries acidity also provided a perfect balance for this very rich, chocolate dessert.

I served this dessert last night to my husband and our friends Lisa and John who had come over for a long over-due visit. It just so happened that they were the perfect audience for the debut of this dessert because, like us, they have an appreciation for food and were happy to be my official 'tasters' and give honest feedback. After the first bite, we were all on the fence about the strong lemon flavor in the mousse. But after a few more bites, it was decided by at least two of us that the citrus flavor did in fact have its place. This dessert really had a lot to offer in the way of textures and flavor. A sweet, crispy base with a chewy interior, a rich and decadent chocolate mousse, a light and silky vanilla sauce, topped with fresh, sweet berries. Lisa, a true foodie, talented gourmet chef, though not by trade, with a propensity for telling it like it is said it was wonderful, she wouldn't change a thing and she would order it at a restaurant. Now that's high praise. I'll call this one a success.   Definitely my favorite challenge so far!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Vanilla Cheesecake

Wow, if blogging was my 'job', I would most definitely be out of work. My ex boss would undoubtedly tell me that I wasn't taking it seriously enough and that I needed to be more dedicated. Sigh. Sadly, life has gotten in the way of my little hobby. Since my last post, there's been a wedding, a funeral, a birthday party, a disgusting eye infection for both kids, my very own sinus infection and all four of us have been playing host to some unidentified virus that has lingered for weeks. Throw in obedience classes for our foolish puppy who still prefers to pee in the house than outside and that pretty much sums up our lives for the past month. Between the snotty noses and the puddles on the floor, we've gone through more kleenex and paper towels than I care to admit.
So when my aunt invited all the lovely ladies of our family over for an afternoon of doing what we do best: gabbing and eating, I jumped at the opportunity to get back in the kitchen and bake something yummy... cheesecake.
If you've been reading my blog, you know how big a hater I am of dry cakes. My intense hate notwithstanding, I've become quite proficient at baking them, unfortunately, and I shudder to think of all the cakes that have been slaved over in my kitchen, only to find themselves in my garbage. The same applies to cheesecake. I love a good cheesecake, but the texture must be creamy and decadent or else I'm liable to pout. I started my search for the perfect cheesecake by looking at dozens upon dozens of recipes and then settling on a very basic recipe found on the Kraft website, and then 'tweaking' it. Extensively. 
I lowered the oven temperature, shortened the cooking time, used a water bath (even though surprisingly the recipe did not call for one), then I added more sour cream, more sugar, more vanilla extract and threw in a vanilla bean for good measure. I also took the liberty of using a different brand of cream cheese, and more of it. Then, as if I hadn't thumbed my nose at Kraft's version enough, I pulled out my food processor to mix it instead of using the stand mixer.  By the time I was done, my version was nothing like the recipe I started with but the end result was a smooth, creamy, velvety rich, vanilla cheesecake that I am happy to share with you. The options for 'toppings' are endless. In the Kraft version, they use canned cherry pie filling but there was NO way anything from a can would make it's way on top of this cake. Since the sun had finally decided to make an appearance this weekend ('had' being the operative word) I opted for fresh berries. It just seemed fitting. We all enjoyed our afternoon of summer on my aunt's deck and it's a good thing too, because the sun is nowhere to be found today.
Recipe for Vanilla Cheesecake:
1 1/2 cups Graham Wafer crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
Melt butter, mix with Graham Wafer crumbs and sugar and press firmly into bottom of a greased 9 inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the cake pan with foil to prevent water from seeping in. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
1 kg. container of Victorian Style cream cheese (found at Costco); or 4 eight ounce packages of full fat cream cheese
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup of full fat sour cream
1 T. vanilla extract
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
3 eggs
Put all the ingredients (except the eggs) into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture is well blended and smooth, scraping the sides as necessary. Add the eggs, one at a time, pulsing after each addition until fully incorporated.  Be careful not to over process. Once the batter is smooth, pour over your crust.
Place cake into shallow baking pan and add enough boiling water to reach half way up cake pan. Bake for one hour.  Cake should still be jiggly after the hour.  Carefully from the oven, and remove the cake from the water bath. Allow to cool on your counter top until room temperature. (About 2 hours). Refrigerate at least 4 hours, but overnight is best.
This cake was silky and rich, but not overwhelmingly sweet. It's the perfect canvass for any sweet topping your heart desires. I'm thinking caramel might be next...
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