Saturday, July 11, 2009

Catching Up...

I can't seem to stop baking. It's really becoming an issue--although I am not complaining. I love being able to bake again every day...I had forgotten how much I need that daily time for meditation. I realize that chocolate chip cookies can't be a religion, but they're close enough.

On Monday, I made Better Than Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake Muffins. Now, Let me begin by saying how surprised I am that I haven't yet featured these little numbers on this blog before. the BTCCCC Muffins are my go to recipe when I'm lacking in time or just need a sure-fire crowd pleaser. In fact, I used to make these at least once a week when I was at UF.

Backstory:

These muffins were my second recipe. I had baked a Death By Triple Chocolate Orgasm cake for one of my best friend's birthday back in 12th grade, and, impressed with the fact that he now had a personal baker, said friend (let's call him "Matt," since that's his name), Matt, asked me to make him blueberry muffins. Matt has a thing for blueberry muffins. We used to go to the Whole Foods Market at night and buy muffins and then drive to the beach (this is what kids who don't drink in high school do...). Now, I don't know if you've ever been to the Whole Foods Market at about 9 pm and purchased a blueberry muffin, but you should try it. At any time of the day, really.

So I baked him these blueberry muffins...and they went over really well. So I got creative. I used the basic muffin recipe and then substituted chocolate chips for the blueberries and created a spice mixture (laced with a little bit of espresso) to be sprinkled over the tops of the muffins...and the BTCCCC Muffins were born!

I really love this recipe--there's no butter, which is a huge time saver, and the flavor of the muffins is to die for. I cranked out two batches in the time it would probably take to start a cookie recipe. Each batch, makes about 30 muffins, which is the only problem, since I have only one mini muffin pan, and that makes only 24 at a time.

When you bake mini muffins and only have 6 in a 24 muffin pan, the cooking spray and excess spices left from the first bake tend to continue cooking, even though there are no muffins in those spaces. So while the second batch of muffins reached its tail end, the cooking spray was turning to steam in my oven.

I had gone to put on makeup while the muffins baked, since I had to run out as soon as they were done...and when I went to open up the oven to check on the muffins, steam burst out and hit me in the face--which was not good, since my mascara was wet. Naturally, I closed my eyes...but then quickly realized that my eyelashes were stuck together! Fortunately, I managed to separate them and then remove the muffins from the oven...but I learned my lesson: don't lean over a 400 degree oven until your mascara has dried.

Better Than Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake Muffins
(I apologize for the quality of this picture. I forgot to take one at home, and the lighting in the theatre is very dark...)

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Tuesday was Seth's birthday. (Seth is one of the actors in the Shakespeare Fest.) Last year, I baked a really sick extra chocolate cake, and I figured that I needed to try something new...so I made Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cheesecake Cookie Bars. My biggest problem with this recipe--because I've made it once before with much success--was that I lacked the right pan in which to bake this insane concoction.

Bar cookies are really just cookie dough baked into a cake or bread pan and then sliced up into bars. Picture a chocolate chip cookie cake, only much thicker (because there's more leavening in the recipe) and not round.

So I mixed the chocolate chip cookie dough (a slightly different recipe from my Better Than Chocolate Chip Cookies) and the chocolate cheesecake mix. Then in a 9" cake pan (which was definitely not big enough) went a large portion of the chocolate chip cookie dough. I baked it at 375 until the sides started to brown and then in went the cheesecake and the remaining cookie dough. By the time such occurred, the original cookie dough had already risen almost to the top of the cake pan. So these were MUCH thicker than I had intended. And now had cheesecake, which takes FOREVER to cook, on top. (General rule of thumb: the thicker/denser the batter or dough, the longer it's going to take to cook all the way to the center.)

I checked on the Cookie Bars about 1 million times that afternoon, and yet the center refused to cook all the way. I think it was more than an hour later (which included the first bake of the cookie foundation) that I was able to remove the Cookie Bars and then cool and slice them.

I worried that the bake time had perhaps ruined the batch, so while they chilled in the refrigerator, I whipped up a batch of Better Than Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake Muffins, just in case. Then my sister Allie came home from camp and bravely tried a Cookie Bar (because, y'know, I really had to force her...) and deemed them yummy.

Apparently my fellow actors agreed! (Once again, sorry for the quality of the photo!)

Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cheesecake Cookie Bars

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I took Wednesday off from baking, but received that night from Pierre, another actor in our merry band, a request for homemade caramel. "Oh dear," thought I...caramel is probably one of the most temperamental of all of the recipes I've ever tried. It ranks up there with meringue on the "probability I'm going to mess this one up" scale.

But if caramel Pierre wanted, it would be caramel he would get. I made my Mocha Caramel Macchiato cookies, hold the macchiato. (I didn't feel like making icing, and they really didn't need it anyway.) I creamed the butter and sugars before I started the caramel, since the caramel needs to be added to that mixture before it has time to harden...and then I started cooking the sugar. To my surprise, I didn't burn anything and I didn't have to start over. It came out perfectly! I quickly poured 1/2 a cup into the butter/sugar mixture...and then ALL of the sugar caramelized. I had to spend several minutes chopping up the pieces of caramel with my spoon. I waited for everything to cool before I even thought about adding the eggs...no one wants scrambled egg cookies. Then I finished making the recipe as normal. When I put the cookies in the oven, the caramel chunks cooked and slowly melted, giving the cookies more spread than usual. As they cooled, the caramel hardened, and the chocolate chips assumed a permanently melty composition.

The end result was a soft, chewy, utterly evil (thanks, Lisa) cookie. I am very proud of how they came out. There was nothing left by the end of rehearsal--and here's why:

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And now I have a rather big project (which I have set out for myself) to accomplish this week...stay tuned.

Kay

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Tedious Brief Respite from Baking

No, I haven't stopped baking...I just have Shakespeare on the brain. So I'm sharing this.

We'll return to your regularly scheduled pastry updates in just a mo'.

video

Just a bit of background for the uninitiated:

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner make up, in my opinion, one of the funniest comedy duos of all time. The 2000-Year-Old Man bit began as a silly bit of improv and became a running skit that kept audiences in stitches for 40 years. Carl Reiner plays an interviewer who has been given the privilege of questioning a 2000 year old man (Brooks), who seems to have been present at every important event that occurred on the A.D. side of the calendar (and some events from the B.C. side as well...If you get the chance, listen to the bit about "Phil." You won't regret it.)

In this clip, the 2000 Year Old Man talks about why Shakespeare wasn’t a great writer and one of Shakespeare’s lost plays.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

As American as...

Apple Pie Cookies!

Happy post-Independence Day, everyone! I hope that your day was filled with good food, lots of fun, and few fireworks-related injuries.

Yesterday, my Dad decided we were going to have a "cookout." At our house, that usually entails Dad cooking outside, yes, but he's the only one who ever sets foot out the door. The rest of us stay inside and patiently wait for the fruits of his labor. So, okay: cookout. My father also invited my boyfriend--who accepted the invite--so this meant the potential for embarrassing stories and/or tons of really corny jokes and weird comments. The usual family-meeting-the-boyfriend silliness.

I figured that, in order to deflect attention from the crazy, I should cook up some sort of distraction--literally! So I made an old favorite, the Apple Pie Cookie.

It's been a long time since I first made these cookies. I think the last time might have been in Jessica's kitchen at UF--well over a year ago. But I pulled out my recipe and ran off to Publix (the most glorious grocery store on Earth!) for the essentials.

Unfortunately, while I did (finally) remember to pick up some nutmeg and allspice, I forgot the cream of tartar. (This was the first mistake.) I did not realize this mistake until I was halfway through transforming a gloppy mass of shortening and sugar into cookie dough. Now, if you've never heard of cream of tartar, you're probably not alone. It's a white powdery substance that forms on the inside of wine barrels. When the wine is emptied, the powder is used to stabilize egg whites and as an acid to enhance the leavening power of certain products like baking soda. You can find it in the spice aisle of all reputable grocery stores.

My lack of cream of tartar was a problem--leavening is kiiind of important in this sort of cookie dough. So I did a Google search of cream of tartar substitutes, and found that there really are no good ones...however, in a pinch, and in certain recipes, so long as you have an acid you should be okay. An acid like vinegar or lemon juice. Jackpot. In went 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. And I prayed that a) it would work and b) it wouldn't make the cookies taste awful.

I also had some difficulty with my apple pie filling. First of all, the butter nearly exploded out of the saucepan because the stove heated up too quickly. Then the sugars started to caramelize, even though I turned the heat allll the way down. But I managed to catch it in time, put in the apples, and transfer the filling to a nice, cold bowl.

The cookies were easy to put together, and I dusted the top of each with cinnamon sugar before throwing them in the oven.

They came out looking exactly as they were supposed to...and so I crossed my fingers and waited until my first taste-tester arrived.

The good news is that, despite the substitution of lemon juice for the cream of tartar, the cookies came out beautifully. They were indeed a hit (as they always were when I made 'em at UF).

I guess the sugary distraction worked, because a great time was had by all (myself included). Yesterday was honestly a perfect day.

The Cookie!

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Enjoyment of the Cookie
The Boyfriend

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The Father
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Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Best Smell in the World

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I love making bread. Love it, love it, love it.

Why, you ask? Because there is probably no better smell than freshly baked bread. It starts with the yeast as it proofs--not a strong smell, but if you happen to be standing by the bowl, watching the yeast slowly bloom--as I usually am--then you get a whiff of the promise of a heavenly aroma, and it's glorious.

Then, after you've kneaded and punched down, and kneaded again the large, floury mass that is to become your bread, you place the (in this case) braided loaves in the oven and wait. And in about 10 minutes, it happens. Your house begins to smell INCREDIBLE. That heady aroma can linger for hours, tempting you toward the kitchen until long after the loaf of bread is gone.

I'm strange. I know.

But I made a challah yesterday, because Andy had never tried it before, and, since it was Friday, I figured, why not?

Sidetrack: Challah is a huge part of my childhood. I'm not a religious person--not by any stretch of the imagination. But I'll do Shabbat if it means I get to eat a piece of challah. I learned my honey challah recipe back in 2006 (for the Rosh Hashanah meal I cooked for my roommates at Columbia...), and I feel that I am a more complete person because of it. When I was little, my Oma (that's "grandmother" in Dutch, in case you didn't know) used to make the perfect challah toast when she came to stay with us. I don't know how she did it, but she always managed to char the outside of the bread but keep the inside flaky and soft. And then she'd spread just this much butter on it and cover it with hagelslag (pronounced "hachelslach"). I'm pretty sure that if heaven exists, the angels get to eat this every morning for breakfast.

Anyway.

So the challah turned out really, incredibly, beautifully well. I did end up using more flour than intended, but I think that had something to do with the extreme humidity yesterday. The dough was very sticky and hard to knead.

The first rise went well--the dough rose so much that I had to punch it down just to keep it in the bowl. The second rise, after I braided the bread, yielded two massive loaves. Much more massive than intended, actually.

I brushed the dough with egg and then baked it at 375 for 40 minutes. the intoxicating aroma of fresh challah pervaded the house for hours and hours after I took the loaves out of the oven to cool.

Half a loaf was gone before I even left for rehearsal.

And the best part is: Andy's first piece of challah wasn't just processed, enriched flour, mass-produced bread--it was the real deal...and it definitely got the seal of approval. :D!

Kay

PS Please enjoy this awesome picture of my dad trying a piece of challah.
He is adorable:

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PPS Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Going nuts...Coconuts, that is.

I love making whipped cream. It's always an adventure, because, when you don't own an electric mixer and you're making it by hand with nothing but heavy cream, powdered sugar, and a whisk, it takes FOREVER and you don't know if it's going to work until the moment when, suddenly, the cream begins to stiffen and little peaks begin to form. (Yes, that was a run-on sentence. I'm not a teacher any more, so sue me.)

No matter how many times I make whipped cream, I'm always surprised when it works. Don't ask me why.

Anyway.

On Monday, as promised, I decided to make Strawberry Shortcake Cookies. Of course, the batch turned out without a hitch...there is something that is just SO perfect about those cookies. I can't put my finger on it, but they are an instant winner and a definite Kay's Cookies classic. My biggest problem in making them, however, is that there is ALWAYS too much whipped cream left over when I'm done. Now, usually, I mash up an entire pint of strawberries and empty them and the ensuing strawberry juice into the pint of whipped cream (which, because I do not use gelatin to stiffen the mixture, usually melts it a little and makes the whipped cream a little too runny to use for anything but cookies). Instead, I separated the whipped cream into two containers--one for the strawberry cookies and one for--get this--Coconut Cream Cookies.

I've never made Coconut Cream Cookies, but I figured that I might as well do something with the whipped cream and the shredded coconut that I had waiting around my fridge for just the right occasion. (In case you couldn't tell, the right occasion was now.)

So I used my basic sugar cookie template and changed the amounts of sugar (half white and half dark brown) as well as dumped in a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder. Why? Not sure, but I was feeling it. I made the rest of the cookie in the normal way and then flattened teaspoon sized balls of dough, added a dollop of the coconut whipped cream to the center, and then re-rolled the dough around the center. (This is the same way I make the Strawberry Shortcake Cookies.)

The result was pretty, well, awesome. I asked Andy his opinion (since he's now my official taste-tester), and he said that they were really tasty, but they definitely need...something. I do agree. Perhaps chocolate chips? I think this is one with which I'm going to keep experimenting.

Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

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Coconut Cream Cookies

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Either way, I brought both batches of cookies to rehearsal on Monday night, and they were DEMOLISHED. I'm talking empty tupperware by the end of the first run. This is the first time I haven't had to send Andy home from rehearsal with a container of cookies. (He's probably happy about that fact, because--and I know this from personal experience--it's impossible to let those cookies sit on the counter for more than a day and a half. They keep making those adorable puppy-dog eyes at you, and you can't help but pick them up and eat them, just so they won't feel so lonely, all by themselves on the counter like that...)*

Today I used up the last of the strawberry whipped cream (because there was STILL some left over, even after splitting it up between two batches of cookies--and I would have used up the coconut whipped cream, but it looked like someone's spoon had mysteriously attacked it in the middle of the night, and so that container ended up in the sink). I also made a batch of Better Than Chocolate Chip Cookies. The problem with the BTCCCs is that I forgot to halve the amount of butter, and so I had to make a full batch...which yields 50-75 cookies, depending on the size of each individual cookie.

So, Shakespeareans, be prepared for sugar overload tonight.

Kay



*Yes, I am probably insane. Why do you ask?