Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Snickerdoodles

In all my years of baking, I have never made snickerdoodles before. Shocking, right? Well, my family didn't bake cookies during the holidays, and we rarely made homemade cookies at home (that's what neighbors are for, right?). This year I decided to change that and bake these cinnamon and sugar delights myself.

I was poking around Pinterest and did a search for snickerdoodles and came across this Martha Stewart recipe. I know that Martha's recipes usually turn out well so I gave it a whirl. Luckily, I already had all the ingredients on hand so I didn't need to make an extra trip to the store.

Man, oh man, do these cookies make the house smell delicious! My husband was upstairs and said, "It smells good in here!" These snickerdoodles have the perfect amount of crunch on the outside while maintaining a soft, chewy center. I love the combination of cinnamon and sugar and may have to make a cupcake version of these soon.

Ingredients
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 cups (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
Directions
Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Put butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.

Stir together cinnamon and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into 20 (1 3/4-inch) balls; roll in cinnamon sugar. Space 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.


Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Yield: Martha's recipe says it makes 18 cookies, but I used a medium cookie scoop and got 29 cookies. 

Source: Talin Bee; originally from Martha Stewart's Cookies book, page 82

Sunday, December 25, 2011

4-ingredient fudge


Fudge is one of those sweets that I've always enjoyed but never took the time to make. I remember going to a friend's apartment during college and listening to her tell me that it's super easy to make (she had made a batch for us to munch on).  Although that statement always stuck with me, I didn't take action on it until many, many years later. Like 15 years, but who's counting?

This holiday season, I saw a bunch of fudge recipes pop up in an online fudge round-up.  I wanted my first attempt at fudge to be an easy, dummy-proof version with no requirements of using a candy thermometer (I have had several failed attempts at peanut brittle, which could be a post all on its own. And in case you're wondering, I still have not been successful with peanut brittle).

The fudge recipe below is simpler than I could ever have imagined.  It takes just four ingredients and one saucepan to put this one together. Now that I've created the simple version of fudge, I may just venture out and try some additional flavors. Only this time, it won't be years until I try making fudge again!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

Ingredients
  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Directions
Line a square 8” baking pan with wax paper or parchment paper. 

In a pot, over low heat, add the chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk and the sea salt. Melt, stirring often with a large wooden spoon.

Once all is well blended, remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Pour into the wax paper lined baking pan and spread evenly with the back of the wooden spoon.

Refrigerate for 3-4 hours until firm.

Source: Daily Dish Recipes; who adapted from What's Gaby Cooking

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Candy cane kiss cookies

Is it obvious yet that I love Beantown Baker's recipes?  Many of my favorite sweets are from her blog, and I'm always scouring her website for something to make next. This recipe popped up in my Google Reader around the holidays last year, and I believe I made this for my coworker Leigh's annual cookie exchange. They were gone pretty quickly, so I guess that makes it a successful recipe!

These cookies are chocolately, minty and would pair perfectly with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.  They're similar to the ever-so-popular peanut butter blossoms, but they're chocolate and peppermint. Score! 

I guess I'm chock-full of chocolate and mint desserts this holiday season, seeing that the last few posts have all had this wonderful flavor combination.


Ingredients
  • 16 ounces/ 1 pound bittersweet morsels
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 12 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
  • candy cane or mint kisses, unwrapped and frozen
Directions

Melt bittersweet morsels, unsweetened chocolate and butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Stir often and heat just until it is melted. Remove from heat. Pour into a large bowl. Stir in sugar. Let stand for about 30 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time to chocolate mixture. Stirring until fully incorporated before adding the next egg. Add vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Pour that into the chocolate mixture. Finally, add the chocolate semisweet morsels.


Refrigerate for at least an hour. Scoop out with a cookie scoop. Drop ball  or roll into a ball with your hands onto greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 325 F oven for about ten minutes. Remove from heat, immediately press kiss into cookie. If you don't mind them melted, you can return to the oven for one minute more (I did not do this). Otherwise leave them in the cookie and let it rest on cookie sheet for one minute and then transfer to a wire rack. You can also put the kisses in the freezer so they will not melt as fast.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peppermint Brownies


I love when the weather starts getting cooler. It reminds me of hanging out with my family around the holiday season and celebrating my dad's birthday (he is a Christmas Eve baby). Another great thing is that Trader Joe's starts selling their seasonal Candy Cane Joe Joe's!  What is a Candy Cane Joe Joe, you ask?  It's basically a sandwich cookie (like an Oreo) except the cream filling has bits of crushed candy cane thrown in!  I could probably eat the whole box in one sitting...

I found this fabulous recipe from Beantown Baker a few seasons ago and have made these multiple times.  I always set out to Trader Joe's to buy the cookies just so I can make these brownies!  The brownie layer is the recipe from King Arthur Flour, and it's my favorite homemade brownie to date.  And the peppermint Joe Joe mix-in is just genius!

You can always create a much simpler glaze if you don't want to go extra fancy.  Simply mix some powdered sugar (about a cup) with 1-2 tablespoons of water. Add a splash of peppermint extract, and you're done!  If the mixture is too lumpy, add more water.  If it's too liquidy, add more powdered sugar. The drizzle that I made on the brownies above is 2 ounces of melted white chocolate with about 1/8 teaspoon of peppermint extract.

Enjoy these perfect bites of chocolate and peppermint!

Ingredients
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa (I use Hershey's special dark)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp espresso powder, optional
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ~25 peppermint sandwich cookies, such as Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe Joe's, cut into chunks
Directions
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, just until it's hot, but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating this mixture a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.

Transfer the sugar mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl, if you've heated it in a saucepan. Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, peppermint, and vanilla.

Whisk in the eggs, stirring until smooth.

Add the flour and cookie chunks. Spoon the batter into a lightly greased 9" x 13" pan.

Bake the brownies for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set on the edges, and the center should look very moist, but not uncooked. Remove them from the oven and cool completely prior to cutting.

    White and Bittersweet Chocolate Peppermint Ganache
    • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate
    • 3 oz white chocolate
    • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
    • 6 Tbsp heavy cream
    Directions
    Break white chocolate into chunks and place in a bowl. Break bittersweet chocolate into chunks and place in another bowl.

    Bring heavy cream and peppermint to a boil.

    Pour half of the cream over the white chocolate and half over the bittersweet chocolate. Let set for a minute then whisk each until smooth.
      Source: Beantown Baker

      Wednesday, December 14, 2011

      Peppermint meringues

      I was so excited when my generous mother-in-law gifted me a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine (thanks, Mom Lu!). Their pictures of food are always so gorgeous, and I always like to flip through the issues to look for recipes I should try.

      My first issue arrived on Friday afternoon, and I was excited to see some festive peppermint meringues gracing the cover. I'd never made meringues before and thought that this would be a perfect opportunity.

      I was able to whip these up pretty quickly while I was watching our daughter for the morning. The aroma of the peppermint made the house smell like Christmas! I eagerly bit into the meringue and liked its crunchy yet airy texture. To prevent myself from eating the entire batch, I packaged them into bags and will give them away as holiday presents.

      This is a very easy recipe to follow; plus, it makes a lot of cookies. If you're looking for a stress-free homemade treat to give away this holiday season, consider these red and white striped confections!

      Ingredients
      • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
      • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
      • 1/3 cup sugar
      • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
      • 1/8 tsp peppermint extract
      • 12 drops red food coloring
      Directions
      Preheat oven to 200F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I used my imitation Silpat)

      Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium high speed until white and foamy, about 1 minute.

      With mixer running, gradually add sugar in 3 additions, beating for about 2 minutes between each addition. Beat until firm peaks form, about 2 minutes longer. 

      Add powdered sugar and peppermint extract; beat to blend, about 1 minutes.

      Dot coloring over surface of meringue; do not stir (the coloring will form swirls when piped). Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" tip. Twist top and pipe 1" rounds onto prepared sheet or Silpat. Space meringues 1" apart.

      Bake meringues until dry, about 2.5 hours. Let cool completely (for about an hour). Meringues will crisp as they cool.

      Note: Meringues can be made 2 days ahead and stored at room temperature in an airtight container. The recipe above yields about 75 meringues.

      Source: Bon Appetit magazine, December 2011 issue, page 88

      Sunday, December 11, 2011

      Dark chocolate peppermint patty cookies

      My coworker Leigh hosts an annual cookie swap around the holidays. I searched high and low for a recipe to make for this festive event and had this recipe bookmarked for quite some time. Of course, I found it on Beantown Baker and knew that this would be a hit.

      We were asked to bring about 4 dozen cookies for the swap, and I saw that the original recipe made about 2 dozen so I doubled the recipe but only ended up with 40 cookies. I also wasn't sure what the "small" peppermint patties were but soon realized that they are the standard size patties that you can find just about everywhere. I bought two bags of them and had about 12 peppermint patties left over. Ok, maybe I snuck a few to eat, so there might be less than 10 left.  I'm not telling.

      These cookies were fantastic! They were time-consuming to chill, flatten and shape around the peppermint patties, but I think that they were worth it. I used dark cocoa to cut down on the sweetness and that worked very well. My husband exclaimed that these were his second favorite cookies to date (with his #1 favorite being the Jacques Torres mudslide cookies).

      I also didn't add any decorating sugar because 1) I felt the cookies would be sweet enough on their own, and 2) I don't have decorating sugar!

      I'm happy to say that my cookies were a hit at the cookie exchange - they went very quickly and seemed like one of the first kinds to go. Give these a try!

      Ingredients
      • 2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
      • 1 cup sugar
      • 1 egg 
      • 1 Tbsp milk
      • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
      • 1-1/2 cups flour
      • 1/3 cup cocoa (I used dark cocoa)
      • 1/2 tsp baking soda
      • 1/4 tsp salt
      • 24 to 26 small (1-1/2 inch) York Peppermint Patties
      • White decorator's sugar (I did not use)
      Directions
      Beat butter and sugar in large mixing bowl; add egg, milk and vanilla, blending thoroughly. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture, blending well. Refrigerate dough about 1 hour or until firm enough to handle. (Dough will be a little soft.)

      Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper. Remove wrappers from peppermint patties.

      Roll dough into 1-1/4 inch balls. For each cookie flatten ball slightly; press peppermint patty into dough. Mold dough around patty so that it is completely covered. Place on prepared cookie sheet. Using knife edge press star design into surface of each cookie; sprinkle with decorator's sugar. (I did not do this last step.)

      Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until cookie is set (I baked for 12 minutes); sprinkle with additional sugar, if desired. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 2 dozen cookies. (I got 40 cookies by doubling the recipe.)

      Source: Beantown Baker. Originally seen on Hersheys.com

      Thursday, December 8, 2011

      Peppermint bark

      I love peppermint bark. The first time I tried it was from one of those pre-packaged tins from Williams-Sonoma. I remember balking at the price tag because it was close to $20 for a small tin. After I refined my baking skills over the years, I sought to recreate this wonderful holiday treat.

      I've worked with candy melts before and knew that I could make a version of peppermint bark using this no-fuss ingredient. In fact, my peppermint bark recipe only uses 4 total ingredients! I know that there are other recipes floating out there, but I honestly haven't seen them and like my super simple version. If I have the time (and money) to make a more expensive version, I might try it one day.  But not today.

      This is a treat that I make every holiday season to give away as presents. I give them to coworkers, my skating friends, my husband's swimming buddies and our daughter's daycare providers. Next time you see a package or tin of peppermint bark in the store, why don't you pass on it and try to make it at home instead?

      Ingredients
      • 1 package white chocolate candy melts (can use white chocolate as a substitute)
      • 1 package dark chocolate candy melts (can use regular dark chocolate or milk chocolate)
      • 1/2 to 1 tsp peppermint extract
      • About 1/3 cup crushed peppermint candies or candy canes
      Directions
      Crush the peppermints with a rolling pin, hammer or other heavy object. Set aside.

      Over a double boiler or in a microwave, melt the dark chocolate. Using an offset spatula, spread melted chocolate on a sheet of waxed paper lined on a cookie sheet. Let it set until dry.

      Once dark chocolate is dry, melt the white chocolate using the same method. Once the white chocolate is melted, add the peppermint extract. Stir quickly or else the white chocolate will seize. Again, using an offset spatula, spread the white chocolate over the dark chocolate. Try to cover as much of the dark chocolate as you can.

      Immediately after spreading the white chocolate, sprinkle the top with the crushed peppermint or candy cane pieces.

      Let the bark dry, break into pieces, and enjoy!

      Source: An Eva Bakes original, but inspired by Williams-Sonoma and seen on oodles of other websites

      Sunday, December 4, 2011

      Mint chocolate chip ice cream (for Annie)


      I found out recently that a well-loved and popular blogger on one of my cooking forums lost her dad on Thanksgiving day.  I cannot even begin to imagine what that is like and what emotions she must be feeling right now.

      A group of us decided to create a virtual shower featuring comfort foods for Annie. My contribution is mint chocolate chip ice cream.

      Ice cream is comfort food in and of itself. My ultimate favorite flavor, without hesitation, is mint chocolate chip. It has always been and probably always will be. I love the refreshing taste of mint paired with one of my favorite things (chocolate), and together they are just the perfect combination. I made a batch of it this week and hope it will help calm me down before my upcoming figure skating test.

      Annie, although this ice cream is chilly, it really warms my heart and gives me comfort. I will be thinking of you and your family during this difficult time and wish I could send some of this ice cream your way. Virtual hugs to you, and please know that many of us are here to support you.

      Ingredients
      • 1 cup whole milk
      • A pinch of salt
      • 3/4 cup sugar
      • 2 cups heavy cream
      • 5 large egg yolks
      • 1-2 teaspoons peppermint extract (I usually eyeball it and don't measure this)
      • 1/2 cup to 1 cup of mini chocolate chips (regular sized chips would work too)
      Directions
      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 peppermint extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly - preferably overnight.

      Once the mixture is completely chilled, mix in the chocolate chips and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

      Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

      Thursday, December 1, 2011

      Key lime cheesecake

      My hard-working husband enjoyed a successful year in his job and found out that he had earned an all-expenses paid trip from his company! We got to choose between 3 or 4 cities to visit, and while we really wanted to go to San Diego (since neither of us has been), we thought it would be easier to stick closer to home this time around. After all, we'd be bringing our daughter, and with the travel and recent Daylight Savings time change, we wanted to keep things simple. So we opted to go to Miami, Florida.

      One of the restaurants we'd been dying to try is Joe's Stone Crab.  They have been featured on countless food and travel channel programs for their stone crabs. During one travel program, the host ordered stone crabs and had a slice of key lime pie for dessert. It sounded amazing, so we did the same.

      And my, oh my! That key lime pie was like a slice of heaven! I'm not usually a fan of tart desserts, but this was an exception. The tartness from the citrus was offset by the sweetness in the graham cracker crust. I wanted to make something to remind us of the time we spent in Miami, so I made a key lime cheesecake. My coworkers loved this cheesecake, so my ode to Miami was a success!

      Ingredients
      • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
      • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
      • 24 ounces cream cheese, softened
      • 1 cup white sugar
      • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
      • 3 eggs
      • 1 tablespoon grated lime zest (I did not include)
      • 2/3 cup key lime juice (I read the user reviews and only used 1/2 cup to cut down on the tartness)
      Directions
      Combine cookie or graham cracker crumbs with butter or margarine. Press into bottom and partially up sides of 9 inch springform pan. Refrigerate. (I did not refrigerate)

      In a large bowl, beat with an electric mixer the cream cheese, sugar, lime peel, and cornstarch until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, blending just until smooth. Add key lime juice with mixer on low. Finish mixing by hand. Do not overbeat, or cake will crack during baking. Pour batter into prepared crust.

      Bake at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 55 to 65 minutes, or until set. To minimize cracking, place a shallow pan half full of hot water on lower rack during baking. I skipped this step, and my cheesecake did not crack.

      Turn oven off, and let cheesecake stand in oven 30 minutes with the door open at least 4 inches. Remove from oven. Refrigerate cake overnight, and up to three days. 

      Source: slightly adapted from Allrecipes.com

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