Saturday, October 27, 2012

Browned Butter Milk Chocolate Toffee Cookies

I have yet to meet anyone who says they don't like chocolate chip cookies-- with the exception of people who tell me they don't eat sugar. Ever. Hurray for them, but I'm not one of them.  (With all due respect, I'm not so sure I believe them.)

When you combine butter and sugar, beautiful things happen. When you add brown sugar, and flour, and eggs, and vanilla-- you're on the road to making a Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie. Win.

My favorite way to make Chocolate Chip Cookies is to melt the butter.  The batter turns out creamy, easy to scoop and the cookies are nice and chewy in the middle-- and  I posted those as "Rainbow Cookies".

What if you brown the butter first? O-M-G.  (Brown butter sauce with sage over ravioli? Swoon.)

What? You've never made brown butter? Seriously?
Brown butter transforms melted butter into a deeper and nuttier flavor.  It's not hard to make, as long as you pay close attention.  I make my brown butter in a skillet, and begin swirling the melted butter until it begins to turn a light amber color.  As soon as it turns brown, I immediately remove it from the heat-- and there you go!  

This recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen.  If you don't have a paid membership to their website, you can't view their video that explains why four tablespoons of butter is added to the browned butter.  (It has to do with moisture, but trust me-- it works).

This recipe uses dark brown sugar, one egg and one egg yolk and vanilla...

I have hoarded a bag of these Heath Toffee Bits since last Christmas for quite a while.  I admit, that Heath Bars are one of my favorite treats-- and one of these days, I'm going to make my own toffee.  I imagined these would have milk chocolate with them. So, when I opened the bag, I realized that I'd never read the package. D'oh!

I'm one of those Milk Chocolate Lovers.  So, I keep a few bags of these on hand.  

You can go with semi-sweet, bitter sweet, fancy Schmancy brand chopped chocolate-- and, for the record, I have a cache of those, too! I don't know what it is about me, but I hoard all kind of "chips" from cinnamon, to mint to white chocolate. That's why I've been in a cookie baking mood, lately. I need to make a dent in my bags of chips!

...add the flour, and stir it in.

I wanted to add nuts, but my son doesn't like them.

I could eat a few spoonfuls of this batter. Easily.

For the first batch, I used a large scoop.  For the second batch, I made smaller ones.

 Littler... (can you see those browned butter bits?)

The key is to not over bake them.

Bake the cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do NOT bake more than one tray at once, or they cookies won't bake correctly! Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

TASTING NOTES:  Any cookie that doesn't require a stand mixer, means it's a fast recipe. I like that. As for the taste-- these are very rich, in flavor.  There is toffee, and vanilla and it's a sweet cookie-- no doubt about that!  These cookies didn't last more than two days, in our kitchen.  The men in my life loved them.  Next time, I'll increase the chocolate ratio just a bit more-- about one extra cup.  I loved the flavor of the toffee bits.  However, with traditional semi-sweet cookies, that would work just as well. If you love a cookie with a crispy outer edge, and a chewy center-- America's Test Kitchen succeeded in developing a gourmet version of a chocolate chip cookie.  Yes, I'd make these again....and again.

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cornmeal and Ricotta Waffles

As a kid, I grew up with frozen waffles. That's, most likely, why I wasn't wild about waffles--though my brothers were. I always thought that they had the texture of roof tiles, and they were just plain boring. 

Unless, of course, you pile strawberries and whipped cream on top.  This is a game changer and puts me in a whole new league of breakfast deliciousness!

Now, that I'm all grown up, and I've learned that pancakes and waffles don't necessarily need to come from a box mix-- or the freezer section at my grocery store-- I've had a change of heart.  I've discovered that scratch-made waffle batter makes all the difference in the world.

These Blueberry Sour Cream Waffles are easy to make, and got five stars from the family.

 During the holidays, I'll make these Gingerbread-Pumpkin Waffles

I've brushed past any kind of breakfast waffle recipe that requires whipped egg whites. I mean, who wants to go through all that for breakfast?   One morning-- out of the blue-- I had a memory of Cornmeal & Ricotta Waffles that I had at a church breakfast.  I did a little research and settled on a recipe that I found on the Food & Wine website.  There it was-- fluffy egg whites!  Surrendering to my resistance, I got busy in the kitchen. 

Cornmeal are two of my favorite ingredients.  I'm a huge fan of polenta and I make mine with cornmeal.  Ricotta is, pretty much, a staple in my refrigerator. I love using it in baking and in savory dishes.  Cake flour is used, and the separated egg yolks are whisked into the ingredients.

I like to add about couple teaspoons of Lorann's Buttery Sweet Dough for a bit more depth of flavor. 

I appreciate my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, because it does make whipping egg whites pretty effortless.

So, now we add melted butter. (I didn't say this was low-cal!)

...and now we, gently, fold in the whipped egg whites.

Warning-- you get a lot of waffle dough!  I'd say, enough to feed six hungry people-- maybe more!

They come out of the waffle iron with crispy edges...

We used Blueberry-Maple Syrup. But plain pure maple syrup is a good way to go, too.

Of course, when I serve Candied Bacon, the men in my life are thrilled.

 Was it worth separating eggs and whipping egg whites? Yes!  

TASTING NOTES:  Just be warned, that keeping the waffles in a 200F oven causes them to lose a bit of the initial crispness.  Still, there is a very subtle crunchiness of the corn meal, and a lot of moisture from the ricotta.  So, now, it's going to be a toss of the coin if I make Sour Cream Waffles or the Cornmeal Ricotta Waffles.  I liked them, equally.  A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.  

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Self-Frosting Pumpkin Nutella Muffins


I'm about to make a few of you gasp. I know it. It's a dark secret I've kept well hidden for a very long time. But, it's time to come clean.

Until I made this recipe, I've never tasted Nutella.  Yes, folks, I was a nutella virgin, who finally dipped a spoon into a jar of this creamy, dark brown spread and took her first taste.   I'm not a huge peanut butter fan (with the exception of Peanut Butter Filled Hot Fudge Cupcakes). Sure, I like a PBJ, every so often. But, eating peanut butter from a spoon makes me think of the few times I watched my brothers feed it to our dog.   They thought it was hilarious how the dog struggled to get that thick paste down.  That's what  I thought Nutella would be like.

I get it, now.   Nutella isn't pasty. It's creamy. It's delicious. It's addicting, and I am a lover of anything with hazelnuts. So, I'm indoctrinated, and it's a very good thing.

I spotted Robin's recipe for Pumpkin Nutella Cream Cheese MuffinsWait!   Pumpkin Nutella... Nutella!  I had a jar of Nutella in my pantry, waiting for the right moment. This was it.  I really liked the idea of adding cream cheese, but I didn't want to mute the Nutella, because I've never baked with it before.  It was morning, I was hungry and muffins are one of my favorite breakfast baked goods (next to scones, of course).

There is no need to set up the stand mixer. All you need are two bowls, a whisk.   For the dry ingredients, I used unbleached flour (instead of whole wheat). There is a blend of white and brown sugar.  For spices, I used up the last of my pumpkin pie spice (but you can easily blend your own).  You need a little cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda, as a leavener.   For the wet, you need eggs and oil and vanilla.

Whisk the wet mixture and the add to the dry; I like to use Baker's Joy to grease my muffin tin, so that I don't need cupcake liners.  An ice cream scoop makes easy and even measuring of the batter.

So, now the Nutella goes on top.  

..and I used a toothpick to swirl the Nutella around a bit.

Bake these at 375F for 25-30 minutes. However, I always set my timer for less than five minutes of the minimum recommended time. Good thing I did!  The muffins were baked in 20 minutes. 

Whenever I remove baked muffins from the oven, I quickly tip them to one side-- this helps to prevent soggy bottoms. 

Then, I placed them on a cooling rack for a few more minutes.  Get the coffee going...
Ladies & Gentlemen... Pumpkin and Nutella. Warm and Fresh, from the oven on a Fall morning.

 Nom, nom, nom...

TASTING NOTES:  The pumpkin muffin is really moist with a very tender crumb.  I love pumpkin, but my husband does not (with the exception of pumpkin pie or homemade pumpkin custard ice cream).  My son and I had no problem eating one...or two...with a cup of hot coffee.  I'm not gonna lie-- the Nutella flavor does get a bit muted, once it's baked.  It's not a bad thing, but it's something I took note of.  All that means is that I'm going to have to develop a Nutella Custard Ice Cream.  Something tells me that Nutella has limitless possibilities, in the kitchen.

A recipe card is at the end of this post.  I would be remiss if I didn't give credit to the development of this recipe as originally coming from the food blog "Phenomenon".  My printable recipe card is at the end of this post, with a few very minor adaptions to it.

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Glazed Flat Apple Pie

I can see why I became addicted to reading food blogs, about five years ago. They're so visual.  I fall into the category of folks who tastes with my eyes.  All it takes is for a mouth-watering photo to pop out of the screen, and my brain goes into crave mode.

Seriously, it's become a problem and I can't help myself.  That's exactly what happened when Cathy of "Wives With Knives" posted her recipe for Glazed Apple Pie Bars.   I could not stop thinking about that recipe!

 Braeburn, Jonagold and Granny Smith Apples

...and, I'm not even a fan of apple pie!  Blasphemy, I know. I've mentioned, numerous times, that pie crust doesn't rock my world.  But, that has changed, now that I found a pie crust recipe that I like. I'm convinced that adding egg and vinegar makes for a very tender pastry crust.  (I used my food processor to make the pie crust.) I'd have to ask Alton Brown why that is, but it works-- and you can't taste the vinegar, either.

However, I find that the dough can be a little testy to work with, because it breaks apart and requires a bit of patching.  That's why I found making a pie in a half-sheet baking pan makes the task easier to do. Thanks, Cathy, for that tip, because I have one of these pans and I use it all the time.

Plus, this Apple (and potato) Peeler makes the work of peeling, coring and slicing an breeze. 
There are two ingredients, that I order from King Arthur Flour (online) that I cannot be without. One of them is their Boiled Cider.

I add it to any recipe that uses apples, because it kicks up the flavor in  a very good way.  It's super concentrated, so you can even use it to make apple cider. 

The other ingredient that I love is Instant ClearJel.  I mix this to the sugar, before adding it to any fruit pie filling.  Instant ClearJel doesn't "cloud" my fillings and does a great job of preventing runny pies. Win!  For this pie filling, I used 1 cup sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and some fresh lemon juice.

Once the apple filling was spread onto the bottom half of the pie crust, I dotted it with unsalted butter, then topped it with the second crust.  TIP:  Parchment paper makes this easier to do.  Once the crust is rolled, on top of the parchment paper, I can just flip it onto the baking sheet. Much easier!

I like to make an egg wash, to brush on top of the pie crust.  (You can also use heavy cream.)  I buy sparkling sugar -- where else-- from King Arthur Flour.  I sprinkle it on top and then set the pie on a large baking sheet (or my baking stone) at 375F for about 35-45 minutes.

I debated about adding the glaze, since there was, already,  sugar on top...but I ultimately decided to try it.

As an afterthought, I realized that caramel would be a fun twist or even maple to the glaze would be fun. This time, I stuck with powdered sugar and water.

My cooling racks fit perfectly over my kitchen sink, so that's where I do all of my "drizzling". It makes cleanup so much easier!  (You're welcome.) Cathy adds chopped walnuts, which sounds fantastic. My son doesn't like them, so I opted out.

I was losing natural light, fast, so I couldn't get really good shots of the pie-- and I was anxious to taste this pie. I sliced into it, while it as still warm. Vanilla ice cream would have been a nice touch, but I went au naturel.

TASTING NOTES:  This  crust is my new favorite (always subject to change).  It's very tender.  I loved the cinnamon in the filling, but you could certainly leave it out.  Using a blend of apples is a good way to go, because you have sweet and the Granny Smith tart, plus you have different levels of apple texture...from soft to slightly crispy.  I liked the crunchiness of the sugar and the glaze was a nice touch, as well. This pie was a hit with all of us, and a friend described this as "the best strudel he has ever eaten".  I can see why, because the pastry is so tender.

This recipe goes on the top of the pile as a "keeper recipe".  Cathy, thanks for inspiring me to make a pie in a non-traditional pan.  This would be perfect as  a potluck kind of dessert, because you can make smaller slices to go around.

As always, you will find a printable recipe card at the very end of this post. If you can't view it, click here


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