Monday, May 31, 2010

Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Alongside the cupcake cookies at Racheli's shower, were my favorite snack, chocolate covered pretzels. I think it's the salty-sweet combination that I love, and the satisfying mix of crunch pretzel and creamy chocolate. I think I could talk about chocolate covered pretzels all day, but I'll spare you. I tried a few different coatings, some successful, some not. The mini m&ms were just too heavy to stay on. The large round sprinkles looked cute, but were a bit hard to eat.
Obviously there's no baking involved here, but these are a cute thing to serve at any party - and aren't too time consuming. Other potential add ons: shredded coconut, chopped nuts or crushed Oreo pieces.
Tip of the Day: Melt the chocolate in a tall container so you can dip the pretzel rod, then scrape off the excess and roll in the topping of your choice.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cupcake Cookies

And the celebration continues. When Racheli had her bridal shower last week, the occasion, obviously, called for something adorable and delicious.
The cupcake cookie cutters (and ice cream cone ones) were a gift from my mom over a year ago. But I'd never really had the occasion to use them, until now.
I used my standard sugar cookie recipe, which has yet to fail me - although I did end up adding a considerable amount of flour to make it workable, so I may be changing the recipe. I worked with three colors of royal icing - pink, blue and pale green. Unfortunately the pictures aren't great, since - as usual - I work in the middle of the night.
I also somehow managed to burn a few of them, which reinvigorated the both loved and dreaded "reject pile," known for causing depression and snacking.

I experimented with the decoration used for the sprinkles on the cupcakes - a variety of sprinkles and candies. The mini m&ms were the most delicious, but didn't look as nice as some of the others. I applied each one individually, just after the icing. I did forget a couple times and to do it and then had to either leave them off, or glue them on with a little more icing.
All in all, they came out really cute, and were definitely less time consuming than writing on cookies. Success!
Next week I am on a (obviously well-deserved) vacation - but hopefully, through the magic of blogger, I'll share a couple things with you while I'm away.

If you're lucky, I'll show you what else I brought to the shower!

Tip of the Day: Though plastic spatulas are great for many things, you really need a sturdy metal spatula for cookies - both transferring them from your workspace to the cookie sheet, and then removing them after baking. Try this one for a start.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup plus 2 tbsps sugar
1 egg
3/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp salt

Beat together butter and sugar until light and creamy.
Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Gradually mix in flour, baking powder and salt.
Shape dough into 2 balls and wrap in wax paper and refrigerate overnight (or freeze for a couple hours).
Lightly flour your counter or surface, and roll out dough 1/4 of an inch thick.
Cut out as many shapes as possible with a cookie cutter.
Transfer shapes to ungreased cookie sheet.
Reserve the trimmings for rerolling.
Reroll the dough and the remaining dough as many times as necessary.
Bake the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 to 13 minutes at 350F, without letting them get brown.
Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Royal Icing:

3 egg whites
3 teaspoons lemon juice
4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

Beat the egg whites and lemon juice together.
Gradually add in the sifted sugar on low speed until smooth.
Stir in food coloring until you acquire the desired shade.
Use immediately or cover and refrigerate or it will begin to harden.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake

Last week was the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Celebrating the receiving of the Torah and marked by the consumption of dairy products, it's a great holiday all around. Cheesecake!
Since I don't make cheesecake all that often (with the exception of a Thanksgiving adventure and last Shavuot) - I like to plan an elaborate one. This brownie mosaic cheesecake from Smitten Kitchen definitely fit the bill.
There are four components - the crust, the cream cheese filling, the brownies and the ganache topping. Each component simple, and coming together in the most delicious manner.
I made the brownies the day before, and was pleasantly surprised that my cheesecake was in the oven within an hour of starting. And boy was it delicious. Somehow it didn't look as neat and perfect as Smitten Kitchen's, but really that isn't much of a surprise. Also, you'll have way to much brownie left over - but, that didn't seem to be too much of a problem in my house.

It was still really rich and heavy in the way that only cheesecakes can be, studded with brownies that somehow blended in in texture but kept the rich brownie flavor, and a delicious cookie crust.
About that crust - as per Smitten Kitchen instructions, I used smiling, precious teddy bear shaped graham crackers - much more satisfying to crush and kill.
Though the instructions were given for a doubled crust I was a reluctant to do so, but then found that the crust only really covered the bottom of the pan, not the sides. If you want it to come up higher on the sides of the pan, double the amounts I give.
Oh the carnage!
A survivor surveys the wreckage.
I wasn't actually originally planning on making the ganache to top the cheesecake, but when it came out of the oven I thought it was a little ugly looking, so I figured I should cover it up. I ignored her recipe and just melted some chocolate chips and butter together, which is fine for eating within a day or two but may temper otherwise.

Tip of the Day:
Though I often bake brownies and other bar cookies in foil, this time I wanted the crisp edge that a metal baking pan gives for making the cubes.

Recipe: (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

4 ounces semisweet chocolate
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup flour

1 1/2 cups or 5 ounces finely ground chocolate cookies or wafers
5 tbsps melted butter or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt

3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 cups brownie cubes

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp confectioners sugar

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, then the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour and salt.
Line a 9x13" pan with foil and grease. Pour in the batter and bake for 30 to 35 minutes on 350 F. Let cool and refrigerate until needed (makes it easier to cube).

Stir the cookie crumbs, melted butter, sugar and salt together.
Press into the bottom of a greased 10 inch springform pan.

Beat the cream cheese on medium until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.
Beat in sugar and vanilla.
Gently fold in 2 to 3 cups of 1-inch brownie cubes. Pour into the prepared crust, and bake on 350 for about 40 minutes, or until it is set on the outside ring.

When cake is cooled completely, grind the chocolate into powder in the food processor.
Scald the butter and cream in a saucepan, the pour it into the feed tube of the food processor while the machine is running. Blend until smooth, then add the vanilla and sugar. Spread over cheesecake.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Conquering Fears with Fragrance

Sometimes, things are not what they seem.
Sometimes a tall, leafy tree in your front yard can end up causing pain, damage and months of complications. Sometimes an ugly, cheap purple gown can signify years of hard work. Sometimes a bowl of bubbly yeast can result in a hard, inedible yeast cake.
And, as I learned last year, sometimes a recipe labeled bread, is more like a (delicious) cake.
But recently, I discovered that some things labeled cake, are in fact a lot more like bread.
This lemon-scented pull apart coffee cake is a soft, sweet, delicately iced and fragrant...bread. Yes it contains things like lemon...cream cheese...lots of sugar....but this still remains decidedly - bread.
"Bread?!" you must be thinking. "Bread has to have yeast!" And though I am now a wise, college-graduated adult living in the real world (read: parents' basement), I don't think my diploma grants me the powers to overcome my all-consuming fears of yeast, and the many times its failed me.
But since I apparently have no capabilities for rational behavior, I used yeast. And it worked! It rose! It baked! It was more than edible! I think I've used up my daily quota of exclamation points! Also - cream cheese glaze!
Now, why this is called "lemon-scented" is something that quite escapes me. Why is it not lemon pull apart coffee cake? Is the scent of the lemon stronger than the taste? Should we start calling all things flavored a certain way "scented." Am I now going to be drinking coffee-scented beverages every morning. Just kidding, I don't drink coffee. Sorry for being so difficult. I guess spending two hours in the rain today has messed with my head.
But one thing about this - ahem - cake, that makes it especially fragrant is the step of rubbing the sugar and lemon and orange zests together before adding it with the other ingredients - it really infuses the whole loaf with the lemon scent flavor.
Now, I'm not going to jump out of my seat and recommend that you make this asap. Because - it was difficult. Multiple steps, complicated processes and not such clear instructions - especially with the stacking of the layers. So, if you're a little more advanced and think you can take this on, by all means go for it. But if you're more of a kitchen novice, think twice before you try it out.

Tip of the Day: Always make sure to read through a recipe start to finish - ingredients and instructions - before beginning with your ingredients. You may miss a crucial step needed advance preparations, or realize you need an ingredient you're missing.

Recipe: (from Leite's Culinaria)
2 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsps) instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
4 tbsps (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
1/4 cup (2 ounces) water
1 1/2 tsps vanilla
2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsps lemon zest - about 3 lemons
1 tbsp orange zest
4 tbsps (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, melted

3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp lemon juice

Melt the butter and milk together. Add in the water and set aside until just warm. Mix in the vanilla.
Mix 2 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Pour the milk mixture over it and mix with a spatula until all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Turn the mixer on, and add the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add in 1/2 cup of flour and mix, then another 2 to 3 tablespoons until the dough is smooth and soft.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until no longer sticky.
Cover the dough in a large bowl and let rise 45 to 60 minutes - it should double in size.

Mix the lemon and orange zests and sugar together with your fingers, and set aside to allow the mixture to combine well.

Roll out the dough into a 20 by 12 inch square.
Brush with the melted butter and cut crosswise into 5 strips.
Sprinkle the first piece with the sugar mixture, stack another on top and continue sprinkling and stacking until all the pieces are used.
Slice the stack in half and layer them side by side to create a longer stack of pieces.
[This isn't remotely what the original recipe said, but this is the only thing that made sense to me.]
Place into a oiled 9x5 loaf pan - don't worry, it shouldn't fill the pan at this point.
Cover and let rise 30 to 50 minutes. Don't worry, it may not fill the pan at this point either.
Bake on 350 F for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown.

While baking, mix together the cream cheese, sugar, milk and lemon juice until combined. You can heat the mixture if desired to make the ingredients incorporate together better.

Let the cake cool 10 to 15 minutes in the pan before inverting. Coat with icing while still warm.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


You would think that after my miserable failure at a traditional Jewish dessert, I would be too afraid to soldier on. You would think wrong. Somehow I still took on these little crescent shaped rolls that are of Ashkenazic Jewish origin. Their name - "rugelach" means little twists or little corners in Yiddish.
The dough for these is incredibly simple - just four ingredients, one of which is salt - and comes together really quickly if you have a food processor. And then - the fillings. You can go wild. Mix, match, mismatch, mismix (is that a word?) and put whatever you want in these things.

I made two variations - one that was raspberry jam with mini chocolate chips...
...and the other cocoa, cinnamon and more chocolate chips - you could also use chopped chocolate. (If using cocoa brush the dough with a little melted butter or oil).
After the dough is rolled into a circle and sprinkled/spread/coated with the filling of your choice, the rest is pretty simple. A pizza cutter comes in handy for slicing the circle into sixteen (sort-of) equal pieces. Then comes the fun part - rolling! Try not to lose any filling.
The rolled up cookies get brushed with egg, sprinkled with sugar (there is none in the dough) and baked.
If you can wait for them to cool before eating, then I applaud you. If not, then wait at least a few minutes so you don't burn your mouth.
I'd definitely love to try these again with more variations - different jams, maybe a chocolate ganache, raisins or other dried fruits, and if I'm baking for others even some chopped nuts.

Tip of the Day: If you don't have a food processor, at least invest in a pastry cutter (I have this one) - to cut your butter (or cream cheese) into dry ingredients evenly and quickly.

Recipe: (adapted from from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)
Note: I used Tofutti's soy cream cheese and thought they were still great.
4 ounces cold cream cheese
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter or margarine
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt

2/3 cup jam of your choice
chopped chocolate
sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling
anything else you want to add

1 egg
1 tsp cold water
2 tbsp sugar

Put flour and salt in the bowl of a a food processor, and scatter the cream cheese and butter in chunks on top. Pulse the machine six to ten times, scraping down the sides as necessary, until dough comes together.
Turn the dough out, gather it into a ball, divide it in two, and refrigerate each half in plastic wrap for at least two hours.
Working with one packet of dough at a time, on a lightly floured surface, roll out into an 11 to 12 inch circle.
Spread jam on top and sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar and any additional toppings - nuts, chocolate, raisins, etc. Use a piece of parchment or wax paper to press the filling gently into the dough.
Slice the dough into quarters, then eights, then sixteenths, taking care so the wedges are as even as possible.
Starting at the outside rim of each triangle (the base), roll each triangle up so that it becomes a little crescent. Make sure points are tucked under the cookie, and arrange on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Repeat with the second packet of dough.
Refrigerate the rugelach for at least 30 minutes before baking.
Stir the egg and water together, and brush over the cookies. Sprinkle with sugar - coarse is preferable.
Bake on 350 F for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from from the trays and place on a cooling rack to cool.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Apples and Tarts

I know, I've been neglecting you, and I can't promise it won't happen again. My life right now is a whirlwind of finals and moving boxes and carpet samples and storage spaces and paint strips and graduation portraits.

But there's always time for dessert, right?
Well there was time on my mom's birthday, where the complete failure of the babke was mitigated only by the simple deliciousness of this apple tart. One of the things I love most about tarts - of which I've been on a sort of kick lately - is the complete ease of the dough. After you make it, just press it in to the bottom of the pan - no rolling, no measuring, no ripping holes.
OK so maybe you can kind of see my fingerprints, but that's all going to be covered up with this incredible filling soon. And unbelievably simple too. Starts with sliced up apples, which I hopelessly attempted to arrange in some attractive design.
After failing at that, I simple poured on top the mixture of cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla and baked. Voila.
Much easier than a babke.

Tip of the Day: Freezing the tart dough before baking ensures you don't need to use weights in the pan when baking it empty - known as baking "blind."

Recipe: (from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)
Alsatian Apple Tart
Note: I used Rich's Whip topping in place of the heavy cream and it worked out fine. You could probably also sub milk/soy milk if you desire (though it might not be as rich).

Tart Dough:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tbsps) frozen butter or margarine
1 egg yolk

1 pound apples - about 3 medium apples (I used Golden Delicious)
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 tsp vanilla

Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine.
Scatter pieces of the butter over it and pulse until it is cut in and small pieces of dough form.
Break up the egg yolk and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.
Pulse until the dough forms clumps and then turn out the dough and knead to combine any dry ingredients that weren't mixed in.
Press the dough into the bottom of a 9 inch tart pan.
Freeze for 30 minutes, and then fit a greased piece of foil against the dough and bake for 25 minutes at 375 F. Let cool.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Lay them in the tart shell in overlapping concentric circles.
Whisk together the cream, sugar, egg, yolk and vanilla, and pour over the apples.
Bake the tart at 375 F for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the custard looks set. Let cool.