Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vanilla bean ice cream

I never dreamed of making my own ice cream until about a year or two ago. The contributors on a cooking forum that I am a member of kept talking about homemade ice cream, and I certainly wanted to give it a try.

I've learned that David Lebovitz is pretty much the resident expert on homemade ice cream recipes. In fact, he wrote a book called The Perfect Scoop and includes several recipes in there. The recipe below is adapted from his vanilla bean ice cream and is a perfect treat any time of day. You can also add a scoop to your favorite desserts (brownies, anyone?).

  • 1 cup whole milk (do not use skim or 2%)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk mixture. Add bean pod to milk.

In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks and gradually pour some of the warm milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Pour the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

Strain the custard into a separate bowl with the heavy cream. Rinse the vanilla bean and put it back into the custard and cream mixture. Add the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly - preferably overnight.

Once the mixture is completely chilled, remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

    Note: Used vanilla beans can be rinsed and dried, then stored in a bin of sugar. That sugar can be used for baking and, of course, for future ice cream making.

    Source:  Slightly adapted from David Lebovitz, from The Perfect Scoop

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Pumpkin pie snickerdoodle bars

    Last year, when there was a pumpkin shortage, I snagged a few cans of pumpkin and stocked my pantry. Unfortunately, my grocery store only had the large cans left, so I grabbed one. Since it's officially pumpkin season, I wanted to make some pumpkin desserts, and I finally broke into the large can of deliciousness.

    The first recipe I made with the pumpkin was pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. The second recipe I made was pumpkin whoopie pies. Then I made some pumpkin pancakes (those photos were horrible, so I am not sharing that recipe yet). Believe it or not, but I still had pumpkin left over! What's a girl to do?

    I went to my trusty baking source to look for a pumpkin recipe that would use up the rest of the can.  If you haven't guessed by now, I went to Beantown Baker and found this amazing looking bar. It's half snickerdoodle and half pumpkin pie. Yum! Needless to say, this was a huge hit with my coworkers, and several of them have asked for the recipe.

    One note to keep in mind with these bars is that the pumpkin layer might be a bit soft, but that's ok.  It's supposed to resemble a pumpkin pie, after all, so don't worry if it doesn't seem as done as the rest of the layers.

    Snickerdoodle Layer
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 2 cups packed brown sugar
    • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
    • 2 eggs, at room temperature
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    Pumpkin Pie Layer
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup white sugar
    • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
    • 1 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoons salt
    • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
    • 2 eggs, at room temperature
    • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
    • 2 tablespoons white sugar
    • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 oz white chocolate, chopped
    • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
    Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch pan and lay a piece of parchment paper across the pan, so that it extends the pan slightly. The parchment paper is an optional step, but it will make it easier to get the bars out later. Note: I did not do this and just baked in my 9x13 pan.

    Snickerdoodle layer:
    Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth.

    Stir in the flour mixture until well blended. Spread evenly in prepared pan (you can use your hands if you want).

    To make pumpkin pie filling:
    In the same mixer bowl, mix together butter and sugar. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined. This layer will be less thick and more pourable. Pour over the snickerdoodle layer, smoothing out the top.

    Combine white sugar and cinnamon in a little bowl. Evenly sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture over the top of the batter.

    Bake for 33-40 minutes (I baked for 35 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Let the bars cool completely. They will deflate a bit and remain a bit pie-like on the top layer. The bars that are closer to the edges of the pan will be more firm.

    After the bars are completely cool, place the chopped white chocolate into a bowl or zip-lock bag and melt on low power. When it's completely melted, add the pumpkin pie spice and mix (or knead if using a zip lock bag). Use a spoon or cut a small corner off the bag and drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the bars and let it cool and harden.

    Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan. Place on a cutting board and cut into bars. Store in a covered container.

    Source:  Beantown Baker

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Pumpkin whoopie pies

    My manager at work, Niki, and I share a love of baking. She was the one that encouraged me to make the french macarons. She even let me borrow her macaron book and gave me a lot of pointers.

    We were talking about fall baking one day, and she mentioned that she had a fantastic pumpkin whoopie pie recipe that I needed to try. I had bought a huge can of pumpkin and only used part of it for the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and I wanted to find another recipe to use up the remainder of the can. I finally asked Niki for the recipe and made it!

    These whoopie pies remind me of a well-made carrot cake.  The cake-like cookie is fabulous with the pumpkin pie spices, and the cream cheese filling is a perfect complement. And now my kitchen smells like fall!
    • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, 1 stick melted, 1/2 stick softened
    • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
    • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 3/4 teaspoon plus 2 pinches salt
    • 1-2/3 cups flour
    • 4 ounces cream cheese, chilled
    • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
    Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

    In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth. Whisk in the eggs, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, 1 teaspoon vanilla, the baking powder, the baking soda and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour.

    Using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop 12 generous mounds of batter, spaced evenly, onto each baking sheet. Bake until springy to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

    Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, cream the softened butter with the cream cheese. Add the confectioners' sugar and the remaining 2 pinches salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; mix on low speed until blended, then beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

    Spread the flat side of 12 cakes with the cream cheese frosting. Top each with another cake.

    Yield: Rachael Ray's website says it will make 6 filled whoopie pies; I was able to make 8

    Source: Niki, who found it on Everyday with Rachael Ray

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

    Hooray--fall is finally here! That means it's time for pumpkin-flavored goodies.  Well, if you can find canned pumpkin in your grocery store. During the past few years, there has been a pumpkin shortage so I am hoping that this year's crop has been plentiful. I made these beauties with a can I had stashed in my pantry from earlier this year.

    These are hands-down the best pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. My husband, who isn't even a fan of pumpkin-flavored things, was converted into a fan after tasting these. If that's not saying something, then I don't know what is!

    I've seen other recipes out there and honestly haven't tried them, but if something ain't broke, why fix it? You can certainly make your own fresh pumpkin puree and use it for this recipe if you are that talented (unlike me--I'll stick to the canned stuff, thankyouverymuch).

    • 2 1/2 cups flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 package (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
    • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (optional--I do not use)

    Set the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

    In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

    In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Add the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla and beat just until blended.

    Mix in the dry ingredients.

    Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips or chunks and nuts, if using.

    Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.

    Bake the cookies for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Rotate the sheets halfway through baking to ensure even baking. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a few minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

    Source:, who adapted from"Too Busy to Cook?" Volume Two

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    Patty's White Chocolate Cheesecake

    When I worked in my previous department, my coworker Patty was one of the frequent taste testers of the desserts I'd bring to work. I always looked forward to bringing her a sample and asking how things were going.

    One day Patty returned the favor and gave me a slice of her white chocolate cheesecake. She told me that this was her most requested dessert and that it was the one sweet that she's confident in making time and time again. I took a bite and just couldn't stop eating. With each bite, I was sad knowing that the slice in front of me would not last for much longer. About 30 seconds later, the inevitable happened--I had devoured the whole slice.

    I asked Patty the next day if she would share her recipe, and she was nice enough to give it to me. It's taken me a while to make this, but I'm so glad I did. Move over, Cheesecake Factory--there's a new cheesecake in town!

    • 1 stick melted butter
    • 16 oz Oreo cookies
    Line the bottom (outside) of a springform pan with foil to prevent the butter from the crust from leaking. Crush the Oreo cookies and combine with butter.  Spread half of the Oreo mixture on the bottom of the pan and the other half up the sides of the pan.

    • 32 oz cream cheese, room temperature
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 4 eggs
    • 4 oz butter (1 stick)
    • 16 oz white chocolate
    • 2 oz heavy cream (1/4 cup)
    • 2 oz sour cream (optional)
    Mix cream cheese with sugar. Add cream and eggs.

    In small saucepan melt butter, then set aside.

    In double boiler melt white chocolate over low heat. Chocolate will become lumpy when too hot, so be careful!

    Add butter and white chocolate to cream cheese mixture and mix until smooth. Pour into springform pan.

    Bake at 270 degrees for 90 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door and leave cake in for 30 additional minutes.

    Cool completely and refrigerate. If desired, top with white chocolate shavings.

    This recipe makes one 8 or 9 inch cheesecake, or two 6-inch cheesecakes. 

    Source: My coworker Patty; original source unknown

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Vanilla cupcakes with dulce de leche filling

    I still can't believe our little girl turned one this year. To help celebrate this joyous occasion and to mark us successfully surviving our first year of parenthood, we held a first birthday party for our daughter back in April. We had about 25 friends and family join us at a local, authentic Chinese restaurant and had a delicious 10-course meal. To finish off the feast, I made vanilla cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, cake pops and decorated sugar cookies for our guests to enjoy. I settled on a heart-shaped theme, so many items were in the shapes of hearts, including the cake pops and balloons.

    I wanted to mix things up a bit in case some people weren't into the vanilla/vanilla or chocolate/chocolate combo for the cupcakes. So, I decided to add some chocolate frosting to a few of the vanilla cupcakes, and some of the vanilla frosting to the chocolate cupcakes (I know, I'm such a rebel!).  I think they turned out pretty cute-don't you?  Oh, and as a super special treat, I made some dulce de leche and filled the vanilla cupcakes with it.

    Finally, to top things off, I made heart-themed royal icing decorations that you can see in the photo above.  These were quite time-consuming, but they added a nice touch to the cupcakes!

    One important thing to note is that even though I made these cupcakes a day in advance and stored them in an air-tight container, they dried out pretty quickly. If you can, I'd recommend making this recipe the day that you're going to eat them. I'm on the hunt for a vanilla cupcake recipe that doesn't dry out as much overnight--let me know if you have suggestions!

    Vanilla Cupcake Ingredients
    • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 2/3 cup sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
    • zest of 1 lemon (optional)
    • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
    • ¼ tsp. salt
    • ¼ cup milk
    • 1-1 ½ recipes easy vanilla buttercream frosting

    Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.  Set pan aside.

    In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and beating well after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest, if using.

    In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

    Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool in pan 5 minutes.  Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

    Prepare frosting.  Decorate cooled cupcakes as desired.

    Vanilla Frosting Directions
    • 20 tbsp. (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
    • 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted 
    • 1/8 tsp. salt 
    • 2 tsp. vanilla extract 
    • 2 tbsp. heavy cream 
    In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. 

    Add confectioners’ sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds.  

    Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds.

    Scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds.   

    Then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice. 
    Chocolate frosting Ingredients
    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
    • 2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
    • 3 cups powdered sugar
    • 1/3 cup milk
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Melt butter and stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

    Dulce de Leche Ingredients
    • 2 cans (or more) sweetened condensed milk 
    • Water
    Carefully peel labels off cans. Place a saucer at the bottom of the crockpot and set the cans on top (this is to prevent the crockpot from getting burnt).

    Add water - enough to cover the cans. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

    Cool completely before you open the cans and use.

    Note:  My crockpot got a lot of gunk on it from the glue on the labels. If you can, I'd recommend removing as much glue as you can from the cans. I only made one can of dulce de leche, and it was barely enough to fill the 12 cupcakes. Some cupcakes, sadly, went without filling.

    Sources:  Vanilla cupcakes and frosting from Annie's Eats, filling from A Year of Slow Cooking. Chocolate frosting from Hershey's.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    Cookies and cream ice cream

    I've been on an ice cream kick lately. I recently made this and mint chocolate chip ice cream (that recipe will be coming in a future post). Then I have to find something to do with the egg whites, so I usually whip up another dessert. My coworkers usually ask me on Monday morning, "What's the occasion?" and I have to answer that I made some ice cream and I had to use up the egg whites. Then they usually give me that look... you know, the one where it seems like they're saying, "Seriously?" But then they realize that they're talking to me, and all is well. Plus, they get to partake in the dessert, so suddenly they're friends with me again. In case you're wondering, the last batch of egg whites went towards the French macarons.

    Anyway, I happened to have some generic sandwich cookies (the equivalent of Oreos or Trader Joe's Joe Joes) and decided that this would be a great add-in to my regular ice cream recipe. I made a few tweaks to David Lebovitz's vanilla bean ice cream and churned out this delicious cookies and cream concoction. It's got a nice homemade taste to it, and it doesn't take much time to put together at all! The hardest part is just waiting - for the mixture to be chilled, for the ice cream to churn and for the freezer to do its magic. Then you can finally dig in and enjoy!

    • 1 cup whole milk
    • A pinch of salt
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • 5 large egg yolks
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1/2 sleeve of crushed sandwich cookies (such as Oreos or Joe Joes - you can adjust this ingredient depending upon how many cookie bits you want in your ice cream)
    Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan.

    In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks and gradually pour some of the warm milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Pour the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

    Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

    Strain the custard into a separate bowl with the heavy cream. Add the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly - preferably overnight.

    Once the mixture is completely chilled, churn the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the cookie bits at the end (mix well) and pop it into your freezer overnight and enjoy!

    Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Apple bread

    Two weekends ago, I was strolling through the Penzey's store to pick up some spices for baking. While I was browsing the store, I came across this apple bread recipe.  I glanced at the ingredient list and saw that I had everything on hand except apples. I knew that this would be a recipe that I'd want to make soon, especially since fall was in the air. I quickly grabbed the recipe card and went to pay for my purchases.

    This bread is not too sweet, and the streusel topping gives the bread an added sugar and cinnamon bonus. The flavors are nicely balanced, and the apples in the bread are nicely cooked - not too mushy and not too crunchy. I really enjoyed how the house had a wonderful cinnamon aroma that lasted most of the morning. There's no better way to start a Sunday!

    Both my husband and 17-month old daughter enjoyed this bread, and I'm sure that I'll be making this again. If you recently went apple-picking and need to use up some of your loot, you may want to consider Penzey's apple bread.

    Note that I halved the recipe since the full recipe makes two loaves. The full recipe (two loaves) appears below.

    • 4 cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped (4-5 large apples... I used Honeycrisps)
    • 4 large eggs, beaten
    • 1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 tsp baking soda
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 2 tsp cinnamon
    • 3 cups flour
    • 2 cups granulated white sugar
    • 3/4 cup flour
    • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
    • 2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
    Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two standard bread loaf pans and set aside.

    Peel, core and slice the apples. Cut into good-sized chunks, about 1 inch in size.

    In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the oil and beat until combined. Add the vanilla extract, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Beat until thoroughly mixed.

    Next, add the flour and sugar and mix on low just to blend. Turn the mixer to high and beat until the mixture is smooth. The batter will be very thick.

    Fold in the chopped apples--mixing by hand so the apples do not get broken up.

    Divide the mixture between the two pans.

    To prepare the topping, combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut the butter into the mixture with a fork or by hand until all ingredients are moist and crumbly.

    Sprinkle equal amounts of topping on each loaf.

    Bake for about 1 hour on the center rack of the oven. The loaf should feel fairly firm when touched in the middle; if not, bake an extra 5 minutes.

    Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pans. Slice the bread when completely cooled.

    Source: Recipe card from Penzey's


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