Saturday, December 10, 2016

Candied Pecan Almond Butter Cookies

Candied Pecan Almond Butter Cookies - made dough November 30, 2016 from Hearts in My Oven
My favorite cookies that use almond butter are the Almond Butter Nutella Swirl cookies I've blogged about before. I love those cookies so much that I rarely make them because it's hard (so hard) to limit myself to just one. But I made a batch to bake for holiday treat bags because I was in the mood for it and it is the holidays after all. Plus I found a jar of almond butter at Costco on sale. But since we're talking Costco here, the jar was a decent size so I still had a good amount of almond butter left even after I made the cookie dough for the Almond Butter Nutella cookies.
I automatically searched pinterest for any other cookie recipes that use almond butter and discovered this one. The picture from Hearts in My Oven sucked me in because the cookie was a nice thickness. Plus it used candied pecans. Who doesn't love candied....(insert anything here)?
To candy the pecans, you simply melt sugar to a liquid golden amber then coat the pecans thoroughly in the mixture. However, it wasn't as simple as that for me. For one thing, I didn't know how long to cook the sugar. Melting sugar is always tricky (for me). Sometimes it burns, sometimes I don't cook it enough, sometimes it crystallizes. Yes, fraught with danger, me and melting sugar. Worse, I made a rookie mistake and didn't follow my own advice to toast the pecans first. I think I had some vague notion that coating them with the molten sugar (aka caramel) plus baking them in the cookies would be enough to bring out a toasted flavor. I was almost right but not quite. So please toast and cool the pecans first before candying them.
Despite my mistake, the cookies turned out fairly well. This is one you definitely don't want to overbake or even fully bake. The almond butter gives it a gritty texture (which I like in this cookie) but if you bake it too long, that grit will become dry and crumbly in your cookie.
While I normally don't like nuts in my cookies because they soften and interfere with a cookie's texture, candying them ensured they stayed crisp. But please let the cookies cool completely so the caramelized pecans have time to harden again and crisp up. These made nice little morsels of goodness to pack into treat bags this holiday season and were something a little different than the usual chocolate chip cookies (although there's never anything wrong with chocolate chip cookies at any time of the year).
Candied Pecans:
-          1/3 cup granulated sugar
-          1 cup pecans chips

Almond Butter Cookies:
-          ½ cup unsalted butter, browned
-          1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
-          ¼ teaspoon baking soda
-          ¼ teaspoon baking powder
-          ¼ teaspoon sea salt
-          ½ cup brown sugar
-          ¼ cup granulated sugar
-          1 cup almond butter 
-          1 large egg
-          1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-          1 tablespoon non-fat vanilla yogurt
-          3.5 oz chocolate bar, chopped

Candied Pecans:

  1. Heat sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat until sugar is bubbly and golden brown, stirring constantly. 
  2. Once sugar turns into syrup consistency, remove from heat and add pecans. Gently toss pecans until all are coated completely. 
  3. Allow pecans to cool and harden, at least 30 minutes. Once cooled, chop into smaller pieces.
Almond Butter Cookies:

  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and continue cooking until mixture foams, particles are browned and a nutty aroma arises, 7-9 minutes. Transfer to bowl to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine browned butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add in the almond butter and mix until combined. Add egg, vanilla extract and sour cream until just combined.
  4. Mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips and candied pecans.
  5. Scoop dough into balls slightly smaller than golf-ball-size and flatten slightly into thick discs. Cover, chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange frozen discs evenly spaced apart on baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Cool completely.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sprinkles' Red Velvet Cupcakes

Sprinkles' Red Velvet Cupcakes - made November 26, 2016 from The Sprinkles Baking Book by Candace Nelson
I've had a love affair with Sprinkles cupcakes for awhile now. At first it was due to their rarity because the closest one to me was half a state away and they didn't ship. Then they opened a shop closer to me, within reasonable driving distance and I still loved them. I almost can't admit how many I ate when they first opened near me but let's say I've tried almost every flavor, including going on certain days to get particular flavors of that day.
Even when other cupcake shops popped up, I still was a die-hard Sprinkles fan. When I needed cupcakes to celebrate birthdays of my direct reports, I often went to Sprinkles. Although I will admit Sibby's is my favorite cupcake place, Sprinkles wins for convenience and accessibility since they're geographically closer to me and have a retail storefront.
So imagine how thrilled I was to learn Candace Nelson put out the Sprinkles Baking Book. Say whaaaa??? Despite my decluttering and paring down of my cookbooks over the past couple of years, despite my vows to keep my possessions to a minimum, blah blah, yeah, I preordered it and it arrived on release day. I enjoyed leafing through the book, reading snippets from Candace about the Sprinkles story and drooling over the pictures of the cupcakes I'd seen in her shop(s).
It was a no-brainer to try out the red velvet cupcake recipe first since that's also my favorite cupcake from Sprinkles and I credit them with making me like red velvet as much as I do. Plus it's the season for red velvet, right?

This is different than other red velvet cupcake recipes I've seen in that it adds white vinegar. Usually, buttermilk is a common ingredient in red velvet recipes and if you don't have buttermilk, savvy bakers will advise you to add a little vinegar to regular milk to get the same effect. This one uses buttermilk and adds a little more vinegar. That must account for the fluffiness of the texture with the acidity being tempered by the baking soda.
I have to give props to this recipe because it actually did taste like the genuine red velvet cupcake from Sprinkles. For once I didn't overbake it and it came out with the proper texture and taste. Thumbs up. Now I can't wait to try the other cupcake recipes in the book.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup buttermilk, shaken
1 3/4 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon red gel food coloring
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, slightly softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup cupcake pan with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, stir together buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla and food coloring.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Slowly add half the flour mixture, then the buttermilk mixture, then the remaining flour mixture, beat until just combined after each addition. Do not overmix.
  6. Divide the batter evenly among the liners and bake until the tops are just dry to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 17 to 19 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting with cream cheese frosting.
  7. Make frosting: in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. 
  8. Reduce the speed to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar and beat until incorporated.
  9. Increase the speed to medium, add the vanilla and beat until fully blended, 1 to 2 minutes, making sure not to incorporate too much air into the frosting.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough November 12, 2016, adapted from Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans
I went through another bout of going through my baking books and pulling out a recipe to try from one of them. Not being sick of chocolate chip cookies yet (or ever), I thought these would be promising. Having come from by bout of Levain copycat recipes, I thought I'd add these to the repertoire.

Alas, no. There was nothing wrong with the flavor of these but honestly? They spread, they were thinner than I would've liked and they reminded me of my early baking days when I was futilely trying to recreate Mrs. Fields' chocolate chip cookies. My, how far I've come since those old baking days. Because these were dismayingly ordinary. No thickness, no chubbiness, nothing intriguing unfortunately. The taste was fine but more Nestle Tollhouse than Levain Bakery.

So, after the taste test cookie baked/spread so thin, I used the rest of the dough for "pizzookies". Meaning I baked the dough balls in single serving ramekins and served them warm with vanilla ice cream at our Thanksgiving lunch. They worked just fine then. Now you know - next time you have cookie dough that spreads too much, just bake them in ramekins and serve them warm with ice cream. When you bake them in ramekins, they literally can't spread any further than in the ramekin and those kinds of doughs are actually better to use as ramekin desserts since they're generally pretty buttery and definitely not cakey when baked that way.
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces shortening
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) chocolate chips
  1. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  2. Cream together butter and shortening until blended. Add brown sugar and granulated sugar; beat until combined. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until just combined.
  3. Add dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated; do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chips.
  4. If dough is soft, chill briefly, 20-30 minutes. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover, and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly space cookies on baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden and middles are just barely not shiny or raw. Let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Holiday Cookie Compilation

I still have a couple of new recipes to put up from what I tried out in November but for the first day of December, I thought I'd put up this compilation of holiday cookies I've blogged about in the past. They're good year round but in case you want to do a little holiday baking, these are good contenders to bring to cookie swaps, holiday gatherings and giving as gifts. Some because they're pretty, some because they look festive for the season and all because they're delicious.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Edge of Darkness Bars

Edge of Darkness Bars - made November 14, 2016 from Baking Style by Lisa Yockelson
Can you tell I went on a brownie kick in November? I keep saying it was to use up leftover Halloween candy and that's true. But I also can make brownies in my sleep and when I need something to bring to friends or to have an emergency stash in case I end up going somewhere unexpectedly - and I'm incapable of arriving empty-handed - brownies freeze well and are easy to transport so they're a no-brainer for the holidays.
Plus I was combing through my Lisa Yockelson baking books and, as I've often mentioned, while I can't tell the difference between her multitude of brownie recipes, I can attest that they turn out well every.single.time.
This was no exception. I list the full recipe below but I cut the recipe in half and baked these in a 9" baking pan. They still baked up reasonably thick but were still a manageable bite. Cut them into small pieces though as they are rich. If brownies aren't rich and decadent, there's almost no point to making them and certainly to eating them.
For this particular batch, I used up the last of my Snickers bars from Halloween. And yes, that's the only time I actually ate a Snickers all year. Because look at that picture - sheer decadence.

2 cups unsifted, bleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsifted bleached cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoon unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
10 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled to tepid
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to tepid
10 large eggs
4 cups superfine sugar (I used regular granulated sugar and it was fine)
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder.
  3. Whisk together the melted butter and melted chocolates in a medium-size mixing bowl until smooth. 
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs just to mix. Add the sugar and beat for 1 minute. Blend in the melted butter-chocolate mixture and the vanilla extract.
  5. Whisk in the flour mixture, mixing slowly to form a batter, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula to keep the batter even-textured.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a metal spatula. Bake for 36 to 39 minutes, or until just set and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Pumpkin Buttermilk Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Buttermilk Cake - made November 8, 2016, adapted from Cake Central
In honor of National Cake Day today and Thanksgiving week/month which still counts as pumpkin season in my book, here's something to celebrate both.  The original recipe called for roasting a pumpkin and using that in the cake. I have never bought a pumpkin in my life and the only pumpkin I know comes out of the Libby's can as pumpkin puree. I know just enough to pick the can that says "puree" and not the one that says "pumpkin pie filling". So it probably can go without saying that I substituted that can of pumpkin puree for "real pumpkin".
I don't know what kind of difference that made and I'm sure people who've baked directly with the real thing might be cringing but, since I don't know differently, I thought this cake turned out pretty well.  It's a nicely seasonal cake, appropriate for more novice bakers who want to bring out something simple for a holiday gathering. You mix it up like a basic cake, pour into a Bundt pan and, the baking gods willing, it comes nicely intact out of the pan. Let it cool then frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting recipe.
Pumpkin isn't a strong flavor, hence the spices in the recipe. If you don't like a lot of spice, you can omit the cloves and increase the cinnamon. I love cinnamon and my absolute favorite is the Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey's. Seriously, I even give it away for gifts along with my favorite recipe(s) for snickerdoodles. Matter of fact, if you want a holiday or hostess gift idea, make up a batch of these snickerdoodles, print out a copy of the recipe on holiday stationery, wrap up the cookies in holiday packaging (those cookie plates or festive boxes from Michaels work well), include a small jar of Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon and affix the recipe with your gift tag.
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously spray a Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust with 1 tablespoon flour.
  2. Place granulated sugar, brown sugar, and butter in a large bowl; beat with mixer at medium speed 3 minutes or until well blended.
  3. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in pumpkin puree and vanilla.
  4. Lightly spoon 3 cups flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.
  5. Combine flour and cinnamon, cloves, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
  6. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pan, and cool completely on wire rack.
  7. If desired, frost with cream cheese frosting: beat 1/4 cup butter and 8 ounces cream cheese until blended and creamy. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and briefly mix to combine. Add up to 2 - 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, depending on desired taste and consistency. Beat until smooth. Frost cooled cake.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Lemon Semolina Cake

Lemon Semolina Cake - made November 6, 2016 from the Culinary Institute of America
I first blogged this recipe in the early days of my blog, almost 7 years ago. It's no coincidence that I put up a lemon recipe around this time of year again. My lemon tree is madly producing lemons and I can't keep up. This doesn't use a lot of lemons, just two or three, depending on the size and juiciness of the lemons but it makes a good cake, a bit different than the normal lemon buttermilk pound cake that I typically make to use up lemons. The semolina flour is what makes it a little different from the norm and gives it a slightly grittier texture.

If you click on the post title and see the original post from seven years ago, you'll see how I skimped on posting pictures and how non-picture-worthy that particular cake was. Fortunately, this time around, I was able to get the cake out of the pan more or less intact so it looks a bit better. It still has a very plain appearance but taste is more important than looks (to me) and this makes a good lemon cake.

It's best eaten warm though so after you brush it with the soaking syrup, feel free to cut into it a few minutes later for the best texture. Even after it's cooled to room temperature, I like to warm it up in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to revive the fluffiness of the texture. If you want to dress it up a little more, make a simple lemon glaze by combining powdered sugar with enough lemon juice for the consistency you want, pour it over the cake and sprinkle with sugared lemon zest.
10 ounces butter
14 ounces sugar
6 ounces eggs
Zest from 2 lemons
1 pound sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces cake flour
5 ½ ounces semolina flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Soaking syrup
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup water
½ cup sugar
  1. Sift dry ingredients. Whip butter, sugar, zest and vanilla.
  2. Slowly add eggs. Alternate dry ingredients with sour cream in 3 additions.
  3. Pour into buttered and floured molds, ¾ full.
  4. Bake at 325˚F – 350˚F, depending on shape (lower temp for large cake and longer baking time, higher temp for smaller loaf, 30-35 minutes).
  5. Melt together ingredients for the syrup. Pour over the cake while the cake is hot. Put cake on icing grate, poke holes into cake, dab on syrup 3 to 4 times and give time between each time for syrup to soak in.