Saturday, February 26, 2011

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

Brown bananas were calling desperately from my kitchen.  "Use me! Use Me!"  And my friend Amy kept telling me how much she really wanted to make the Banana Cupcakes I posted last month.  Since I was going to see Amy this week I thought she needed a little banana and chocolate love.  Plus I have been wanting to try these cookies for a few years.  Yet another recipe from my favorite cookie cookbook, Martha Stewart's Cookies.  Her recipe calls for walnuts and chocolate chunks.  I omitted the walnuts and used chocolate chips instead of chopping up chunks.  I made the full recipe which yielded 3 dozen cookies.

These cookies are super easy to make and they are delicious.  They are a moist and cakey cookie.  A marriage of 2 perfect foods....banana bread and chocolate chip cookies.  They are very delicate and so moist that they had to be separated by pieces of parchment for storage.  And speaking from experience, they make for a nice breakfast!

If you have a brown banana calling out to here for the recipe.

Monday, February 21, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie: Orange Almond Tart

I have been making a pretty poor attempt to keep up with the weekly cooking and baking for the online group, French Fridays with Dorie.  The goal is to cook and bake our way through Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, Around My French Table.  Though with more than 300 recipes (according to the tag line on in the book, making 52 recipes a year, we'll be done sometime in 2016!  Good grief.   I have never done the math on that before.  Anyway, if you are interested in joining the fun click here.  That probably wasn't my best effort to convince you to join our group!  The nice thing about this group is there are no frequency of participation requirements.  So cook and bake along as it suits you.  Ok, that's a little better.

The group made Dorie's Orange Almond Tart on February 11th.  So I'm only a couple of weeks behind.  I'm clearly engaging the bake along as it suits you concept.  This recipe was a stand out and I knew I wanted to make it, even if it's a little bit late.  I love oranges and have had a constant supply of them in the fridge for the last month and half.  I've never a seen a recipe with baked oranges, so this was definitely intriguing.  This is also my first time making a tart so I had to go out and purchase a tart pan. 

This recipe has been described many of the FFwD folks as "fussy".  And it is.  This isn't something you can just throw together.  It's best made over the course of 2 days.  You can do all the prep on day 1 and then assemble and bake on day 2. 

The preparation starts with making a sweet tart dough.  The dough is made in a food processor and then can either be pressed into a buttered tart pan or it can be chilled then rolled out and laid into the pan.  I opted for the press in method. 

I don't think I got the same thickness all around, but it still worked out ok.  Once the dough is pressed in, you prick the bottom all over with a fork and then freeze it for at least 30 minutes.  It bakes for about 25 minutes until the crust is lightly golden. 

The second step in preparation is cutting and segmenting the oranges.  This also has to be done in advance because the oranges need to dry out on paper towels for an hour or more, or Dorie even suggests overnight.  I went for overnight. 

The third step is preparing the almond cream.  This part of the recipe also comes together in a food processor.  The almond cream really isn't technically a cream, however, has a creamy texture.  It's a mix of almond flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and egg.

The fourth step is assembly.  The cream goes in the tart shell.

The orange segments get distributed in a design of your choosing on the top. 

Finally, you are ready to bake! 

60 minutes in the oven or until the almond cream puffs up around the oranges and turns lightly golden brown.  Mine took the full 60 minutes.

So?  How did it turn out?  To be honest, it was a little weird.  The almond cream is amazing.  It's almondy and creamy and has a rich brown sugary taste (even though there is no brown sugar).  It almost reminded me a little of pecan pie filling.  The tart dough was thick and on the "tough" side.  I think I overworked the dough (Dorie warns against this).  But the taste of the tart dough is nice, just slightly sweet and shortbread like.  The oranges were the "weird" part.  When baked they had a slight bitter flavor.  They were hard to cut through and were almost chewy.  Dorie also suggests trying this tart with other fruit, such as pears or plums.  Both would be a wonderful compliment to the oh so delicious almond cream.

Good enough to make again?  Yes!  With variations and hopefully a little more finesse on my tart dough.

For the recipe check out Dorie's book, Around My French Table.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Earl Grey Tea Truffles

The Sweet Melissa Sundays baking group is now posting every two weeks.  For some reason it feels like more than two weeks passes in between.  I will be making my very best effort to bake each of the remaining weeks this year as we are nearing the end of the book.  This week, Nina of Nina's Cupcakes selected Rum Truffles.  I'm not so big on liquor in my sweet treats so I did another truffle this week--Early Grey Tea Truffles.  The group made these back in November 2010 but I didn't get a chance to make them then. 

I love the aroma and the flavor of earl grey tea so this seemed like a natural choice for this week.

The first time I made truffles was with the Sweet Melissa Sundays group in May 2010.  We made peanut butter truffles.  My first go round was a little rough and had to be trashed.  But the second time was much more successful.  I love the idea of rolling truffles in various toppings for a different twist.  This round of truffles was no exception.  Melissa Murphy's recipe calls for rolling the truffles in cocoa powder.  I did that.  But I also thought almonds would be a nice pairing with early grey.  And I also chopped up a cookies and cream candy bar in my food processor for the third coating.

I made half the recipe and it yielded about 42 truffles.  Some will be going to work and I will be sharing some with my Grandfather.  And of course a few have been set aside for me to enjoy with a nice cup of hot tea.  The aroma of earl grey tea comes from the bergamot orange rind.  Something I didn't know before today.  Apparently the bergamot orange is a sour fruit, but it's rind gives off a wonderful sweet aroma. 

These truffles are a silky deep dark chocolate with the light flowery bergamot scent.  A very tasty, sophisticated and decadent treat. 

I thought they would have paired nicely with a coating of shaved white chocolate to bring a little more sweetness.  Unfortunately I didn't have any white chocolate in house.  I would definitely make these again.  They would make a nice gift for a chocolate or tea lover.

For the Early Grey Tea Truffles recipe click here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chocolate Chubbies

Can you say chocolate?  More chocolate?  Then more chocolate?  A little peanut butter for kicks?  It's intense.  And it's good.  I have had my eye on these cookies since Christmas day when I cracked open one of my gifts, Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.  She describes them as "the moistest, most intensely chocolate chocolate chip cookies in the world."  Wow.  That's serious.  And these are serious cookies.  They have a rich deep dark chocolate flavor...much like a brownie. 

The batter is fudgey.

 When they bake up they get that nice crackly top like a brownie.

 Then you break one of these bad boys open.....

Need I say more?

The chocolate chubby is great with a cold glass of milk. 

I suppose I should tell you about the recipe now.  There are 12 ounces of melted chocolate in the batter.  That's a lot.  And only 1/2 cup of flour.  That's not a lot for a cookie recipe.  Sarabeth Levine mixes in 2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips and nearly 3 cups of chopped pecans and walnuts.  I am not a fan of nuts in my cookies (or most sweet treats for that matter).  So I did deviate a bit from the recipe.  For my mix ins I used approximately 2 2/3 cups of a mix of milk chocolate chips (1 cup), peanut butter chips (1 cup) and semisweet chips (2/3 cup).  Given I was nearly 2 cups short on the mix ins, my cookies didn't come out quite as chubby as the ones pictured in the book.  I enjoyed this combination of mix ins, but I thought the peanut butter chips got a little lost in the chocolate.  Next time I want to throw in some white chocolate chips....and dare I say, some toasted almonds?  I know.  I just said that I don't like nuts in cookies.  Ok, I might have to think about it.  But the white chocolate chips are a definite. 

The recipe calls for superfine sugar.  If you don't have superfine sugar, you can make your own by grinding regular sugar in a food processor for a minute or two until the granules reduce in size by about half.  That's what I did.  I used my mini prep.  If you are considering purchasing a food processor but think a big one is just too much, check out the mini prep.  For $30 it's a great buy and can be used for a variety of things--from grinding nuts or chocolate, pureeing vegetables and even making fresh whipped cream (a tip I saw recently on Tracey's Culinary Adventures who saw it on another blog, who saw in the LA Times).

Keep a watchful eye on these cookies during baking.  The recipe says to bake them for 17 - 20 minutes.  I checked mine at 17 and they were done.  I think they could have come out at 15.  And unfortunately one tray was cooked for an undetermined amount of time because I never heard the timer go off.  Luckily I was able to salvage the cookies, but they were on the dry side.  Go for underdone versus overdone.

The chocolate chubby is a kick butt cookie.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Chubbies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (no more than 62 percent cacao), finely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups (5 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped pecans
1 1/4 cups (4 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts

Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Line 2 half sheet pans with parchment paper.

Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Put the butter in a wide heatproof bowl, and melt the butter over the hot water in the saucepan.  Add the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate, stirring often, until melted and the mixture is smooth.  Remove the bowl from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cooled slightly but still warm, about 5 minutes.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl.  Whip the eggs in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until the eggs are foamy and lightly thickened, about 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar, then the vanilla.  Whip until the eggs are very thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the the tepid chocolate, making sure it is completely incorporated.  Change to the paddle attachment and reduce the mixer speed to low.  Gradually add the flour mixture.  Remove the bowl from the mixer.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, pecans, and walnuts, making sure the chunky ingredients are evenly distributed at the bottom of the bowl.  (Do not turn the dough out onto a work surface).

Using a 2 inch diameter ice-cream scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared pans, placing the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart.  Bake the cookies immediately--if you wait, they won't be shiny after baking.  Bake, switching the position of the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking, until the cookies are set around the edges (if you lift a cookie from the pan, the edges should release easily, even if the center of the cookie seems underdone), 17 to 20 minutes.  Do not over bake.  Cool completely on the baking pans.  (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, with the layers separated by parchment paper, for up to 3 days.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cheez it ish Crackers

These really taste like Cheez Its...but better. I think the French really have it goin on with gruyere cheese. It's worth every penny of the $10.99 a pound it goes for. The cheese makes these crackers. And for an extra cheesy zip I snuck in 1/4 cup of fresh grated parmegiano reggiano.

These crackers are easy to make too. All the ingredients come together in just a couple of minutes in a food processor.

You have a few options to form the dough into crackers. You can roll out the dough and cut it with a cookie cutter, roll it into logs and slice off rounds or you can press them into a mold and then slice. Keep in mind you have to refrigerate it for a good couple of hours before slicing. I actually refrigerated mine overnight. I had these cute little appetizer dishes that I thought would make the perfect mold for these cheesy crackers. Just line the mold with plastic wrap and press in the dough.

Refrigerate, remove the dough and slice into 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick crackers.

Place on a baking could space them closer together than I did. They don't expand much in the oven.

And serve! These make a great snack or appetizer. A nice glass of sauvignon blanc would be the perfect accompaniment. These little bites are addictive, so don't even bother making only half a batch. They keep for several days in a sealed container....but they really won't last that long because they are so stinkin good! Even my picky Hubby gave the Cheez is ish Crackers a thumbs up.

The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan's book, Around My French Table. An excellent cookbook if you are in the market for some great recipes and entertaining reading. It rates among my top 5 most used cookbooks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sugar Hearts

I spent this past Saturday enjoying an awesome day with my 2 nieces and nephew. One of the activities we did was to decorate heart shaped sugar cookies. The cookies were simple...a Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix and a variety of store bought frosting. Throw in a little food coloring and some sprinkles and you have cookie master pieces in the making! And a little bit of mess. But that's half the fun right?

We packaged up the cookies to give to the kids parents. The kids did a great job and we all had a blast.

Happy Valentines Day!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cream-Filled Chocolate Sandwiches (Oreos)

You might not be able to tell from the photos, but these are homemade oreos....on steroids. They are 3 times the size of a standard oreo. When I saw these in Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook, I thought they would be soft chewy cookies with cream filling. But they have a crunchy crumbly texture...with a delicious cream filling.

I didn't set out to make oreos, but it turned out to be a nice detour. This recipe calls for scooping out dough with a 1 1/4 inch cookie scoop then flattening out the cookies to 1/8 inch thick using the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. This makes for a huge cookie. Next time I make these, I will roll the dough out and use cookie cutters.

After baking up a the first batch, I thought the cookies would look nice with a little extra sparkle so I dipped each flattened cookie in sugar before baking. They don't really look like oreos with the sugar coating, but they are still tasty. Messy (when they crumble), but tasty.

You can also dress these up with a little decoration by rolling the edges in colored sprinkles or candies. I rolled some in blue sanding sugar to give as a gift for a the parents of a new baby boy.

To get the recipe click here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Filling and Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

A birthday isn't a birthday without chocolate cake with orange frosting. By those standards I almost didn't have a birthday this year. But never fear, the birthday was made complete almost a week after the fact. January is a busy birthday month for my family...2 cousins, my niece, my nephew, my sister and me. And though my own came and went without my favorite cake...I got together with my sister this past weekend to celebrate both our big days, which was the perfect opportunity to make our traditional cake.

My grandma made this cake for most family birthdays for as long as I can remember. It is truly my all time favorite. This year I made cupcakes and decided to try out a new recipe for the cake. Truth be told, grandma always used a boxed chocolate cake mix. And I had a box of Duncan Hines Devil's Food cake on hand. But I wanted to make it a little extra special and I found a version on Duncan Hines website that called for sour cream. (On a side note, I was browsing the Duncan Hines site and saw a lot of great recipes, several of which I bookmarked.)

The cupcakes baked up nice a full with a soft springy texture to the touch. My batch only made 18 cupcakes (rather than 24) because I think I was a little generous filling them. The sour cream makes the cupcakes incredibly moist. Though I thought the cake didn't have enough chocolate punch so I decided to make some chocolate ganache to fill them.

Filling a cupcake is easy (this was my first time). Cut a cone shaped cylinder out of the center of each cupcake and fill with your desired jam, frosting, ganache or other tasty filling.

Once filled, place the piece of cake you cut out back in.

Since this was my first time filling cupcakes I didn't think to keep track of which cut out went with which cupcake.

But it really doesn't matter because you are going to cover them up with delicious frosting.

The ganache sets up and the center of the cupcake is just like a soft dark chocolate truffle.

I didn't have enough ganache for all 18 cupcakes so 6 of them went ganache-less.

The frosting is homemade cream cheese frosting with the zest of two oranges mixed in. If you haven't had chocolate and orange together before, you must try it. So delicious!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Orange Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

1 box of Duncan Hines Devil's Food cake mix
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
4 large eggs

Blend cake mix, water, oil, eggs and 1 cup sour cream in large bowl. Beat at low speed until moistened (about 30 seconds). Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full of batter. Bake and cool according to package directions. Mine baked for 20 minutes at 350.

Chocolate Ganache
from Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy

6 ounces best-quality semisweet (58%) chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1. Coarsely chop the chocolate and place it in a medium bowl.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the heavy cream until scalding, or until the cream is steaming and tiny bubbles have formed along the edges. Do not boil.
3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Stir in the corn syrup.

Cut a 1/2 inch cylinder in the middle of the top of each cupcake and reserve the cut outs. Fill a pastry bag or ziploc bag with ganache filling and pipe about a tablespoon of filling into each cut out. Replace reserved cake cut out over the ganache filling.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 stick of room temperature butter
1 8 oz container of room temperature cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 lb of confectioner's sugar
Zest of 2 large navel oranges

Beat butter and cream cheese together. Add confectioner's sugar in batches until completely combined. Beat in vanilla and orange zest. Spread a generous portion of frosting over each cupcake.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce

This is one of those recipes that always impresses me. The first time I made it I took the first bite and paused...then I turned to my husband, and said "Wow!". For some reason (that I cannot figure out)I haven't made it for probably a year....and tonight, I said to hubby, "Damn, this is good!". Heavenly really. I'm still reeling in the delight of tonight's dinner. The sauce is luscious and has a wonderful depth of flavor. Garlic and red onion almost melt into the pureed tomatoes. A pinch of red pepper flakes give the sauce just the slightest note of heat deep in the background. This goodness simmers for a bit, marrying all the flavors together. The sauce is finished by stirring in cream and evaporated milk. Then topped with fresh chopped basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese and this dish reaches perfection.

Want to hear the cool part? This is a healthy version of Penne Vodka and comes from the Cook Yourself Thin Ladies over on Lifetime. They call it Penne alla "Not-Ka." If you are interested in tasty lower calorie versions of recipes, I recommend checking out the recipes on Lifetime's website or the Cook Yourself Thin cookbook. One of my other favorite CYT recipes is their absolutely delicious Meatballs. I have even served the meatballs with penne alla not-ka in the past. The meatballs are light and pair nicely with the tomato cream sauce. Of course I think the tomato cream sauce is good enough to drink straight up. Man, this is a good sauce!

A few tips for this very easy recipe. Use red onion. Not yellow, white, sweet or spanish. It's gotta be red. Don't overcook the will continue cooking when it gets transferred to the sauce. Remember to set aside some of the pasta water to get just the right consistency of pasta and creamy sauce. And lastly, I almost always double the recipe to ensure lots of tasty leftovers for lunch or another quick dinner.


Penne Alla "Not-Ka"
from Cook Yourself Thin

Serves 4, Calories per serving: 371

2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for serving
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes in juice, pureed in a food processor
Pinch red pepper flakes
8 ounces penne
1/4 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons evaporated nonfat milk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the penne.

2. In a large saucepan, heat the 2 teaspoons oil with the garlic over low heat until the garlic begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt, cover, and cook until the onion is softened, about 2 more minutes. Add the tomato, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer very gently 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and evaporated milk and simmer 1 more minute.

3. Meanwhile, after the sauce has cooked 5 minutes, add the penne to the boiling water and cook until just shy of al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup pasta water. Add the drained penne to the saucepan and simmer until the penne is al dente, 1 to 2 minutes, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if the mixture is dry. Stir in 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, along with the basil and black pepper.

4. To serve, divide pasta among 4 serving bowls. Drizzle each serving with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Sacher Torte

Two weeks ago we made the Speakeasy from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book. I used that opportunity to also make this week's pick, the Sacher Torte. Sacher Torte is a very minor variation on the Speakeasy. The only difference is you split the cake into two layers and fill it with a generous portion of apricot jam. I had enough batter left over to make a 4 inch mini cake for the Sacher Torte. My torte used triple sec instead of brandy (I'm thinking Amaretto would be nice too). The triple sec, orange flavored liquor, was a good compliment to the apricot filling. I liked creating this version with just a little jam twist. This is a good cake, but I'm not sure I will be making it again. Too many other recipes on my to do list.

Thanks to Jessica of My Baking Heart for selecting this week's recipe. Pop over to her site for the recipe. See how other SMS bakers.