Monday, January 25, 2010

Classic English Shortbread

My friend gave me some lemon curd for Christmas and told me that it's really good with shortbread. I had every intention of buying shortbread at the store (to save me a little work), but every time I would go out, I'd forget to get it.

I had never made shortbread before, so maybe that's why I thought it would be "work." It's not. It's easy. So easy.

When I bit into this shortbread the words that came to mind were buttery, flaky, and tender. I read somewhere that using powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar makes the shortbread more flaky.

And the combination of shortbread and lemon curd? Think lemon meringue pie without the meringue. Mmmm.

Classic English Shortbread

1/2 cup salted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour, unsifted

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

In bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and confectioners' sugar. Add the vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing until combined.

Spray a 9" springform pan (or other flat pan) with non-stick spray. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan until a uniform thickness.

Bake for about 25 - 30 minutes until lightly browned. Remove and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Transfer the shortbread to a wooden cutting board and cut into serving sized pieces while it is still warm. Allow cut pieces to cool completely before storing away.

This recipe multiplies nicely by 2 or 3 if you need a larger batch.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cupcake Bake-off

My husband had a cupcake bake-off at his work the other day. He was told by his coworkers that he had to actually make the cupcake himself. What did they think would happen? That I would hijack the project and take over and make the cupcakes myself? That's so not me. I'm not like my husband who takes over anytime I start making something in the wok (I'm only kidding, honey).

The biggest task at hand was to decide what kind of cupcake to make. After thinking about it for a day or two, my husband turned to me and said, "I want to make a peanut butter chocolate cupcake." Well, alright! Let's do it!

I started scouring the internet for "the best chocolate cupcake recipe." Well, as you can only imagine, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes out there claiming to be "the best chocolate cupcake recipe." Oy.

When I landed on a recipe from Cooks' Illustrated, I knew we had a winner. We didn't have enough time to test out the recipe (which is really a no-no when you're entering a recipe in a contest, just so you know), so we had to use a recipe from a source we trusted. And as I've mentioned before, we trust Cooks' Illustrated.

The recipe is for Dark Chocolate Cupcakes, and well, they taste dark. The texture was actually very pleasant, as was the taste and moistness. I think the only thing lacking was sweetness. If we had it to do over again, my husband and I agree that a little more sugar would be ideal.

As for the Peanut Butter Icing, all I can say is wow. It was delicious. Creamy. Peanut buttery. Melt in your mouth goodness. I'm starting to notice a pattern here - whenever I make icing, it's always amazing. It makes anything taste that much better. Now I know exactly where the phrase 'icing on the cake' comes from.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, my husband made the cupcakes all by himself.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
from Cooks' Illustrated, "American Classics 2009"
makes 12 cupcakes; do not double recipe...make two separate batches if you need more

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 cup (4 oz) sour cream

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffing pan (1/2 cup capacity) with baking cup liners.

Combine butter, chocolate and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and fully combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to touch.

Whisk flour, baking soda and baking powder in small bowl to combine.

Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined; then sift in remaining flour mixture and whisk batter until it is homogenous and thick.

Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18-20 minutes.

Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes.

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing
from Ina Garten, as seen on the Food Network

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Beater Blade

My awesome husband gave me a Beater Blade for Christmas. What is a beater blade you ask? It's this awesome attachment for your stand mixer that eliminates the need to scrape down the sides of the bowl, and you won't get any more build up on the blades.

So the real question is, does it work? I have used it a few times since getting it, and I have to say it works beautifully. I have always hated having to scrape down the sides of the bowl because somehow my hand always ends up getting some of the batter on it, and then the handle of the spatula I'm using gets batter on it, and it turns into a sticky mess. Well, I don't have to worry about that any more! It really does work! (And no, Beater Blade is not paying me to say this - I just think that a good product should get a good review).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

When I was in Hershey, PA this past summer, I found these awesome Reese's Premier Baking Pieces. They are like little mini Reese's peanut butter cups just for baking. How cool is that?

I quickly snatched up a few bags, and then held on to them, refusing to use them because they were so special and I hadn't seen them being sold anywhere else.

I don't know why, but I have been wanting chocolate, chocolate, chocolate for the past month or so. Every time I think of a treat that sounds good, it inevitably has chocolate in it. So when I got the urge to make some cookies, and I saw these Reese's baking pieces in the pantry, I decided to take the plunge and make some CHOCOLATE peanut butter cookies. It just sounded so good to me!

I decided to use a tried and true chocolate chip cookie recipe, but just substituted a little bit of the flour with some high quality cocoa. The trick to these cookies is to underbake them. That way you get a nice chewy texture. These cookies turned out nicely, and just for a little more emphasis on the chocolate, I added in some semi-sweet chips. Yum!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 pkg Reese's premier baking pieces
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 365 degrees.

Cream together the shortening, brown sugar, and white sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, mixing until just combined.

Combing the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl. Add to the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined. Stir in the Reese's premier baking pieces and semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Roll into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Underbake.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Here in America's Test Kitchen...

Have you ever seen this show? Or heard of Cooks' Illustrated? If the answer is no, you are missing out, my friend! These people test every recipe hundreds of different ways until they get the right one. They test every kitchen product until they find which one works the best. Their recommendations are tried and true, and I trust their recipes.

But when I saw a recipe for a cinnamon bun made without yeast, I was skeptical. I am not a cinnamon bun connoisseur by any means, but I've had some good homemade cinnamon buns and some not so good store bought ones. And I can tell the difference. Up until this point, I thought ALL homemade cinnamon buns had to be made with yeast. But America's Test Kitchen came out with a quick cinnamon bun recipe, and I had to give it a try.

So what makes this a "quick" cinnamon bun? Well, you don't have to knead the dough for a long time, or wait for the dough to rise (several times). On average, a standard yeasted bun takes about 5 hours to make. The quick buns, from start to finish, take an hour.

As for taste, I actually did like the bun. It was tender and rich. The icing was very nice, using buttermilk, powdered sugar, and cream cheese. To be honest, I don't think your average person would be able to tell whether it was a yeasted bun or not. So, if you need a quick cinnamon bun, try these. I think you'll like them.

Quick Cinnamon Buns with Buttermilk Icing
from the cookbook, Here in America's Test Kitchen
Makes 8 buns.

Melted butter is used in both the filling and the dough and to grease the pan; melt the total amount (8 tablespoons) at once and measure it out as you need it.

1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, for pan

cinnamon-sugar filling
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

biscuit dough
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for work surface
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

2 tbsp cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp buttermilk
1 cup (4 oz) confectioners' sugar

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Pour 1 tbsp melted butter into 9-inch nonstick cake pan; brush to coat pan. Spray wire cooling rack with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2. TO MAKE CINNAMON-SUGAR FILLING: Combine sugars, spices, and salt in small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon melted butter and stir with fork or fingers until mixture resembles wet sand; set filling mixture aside.

3. TO MAKE BISCUIT DOUGH: Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Whisk buttermilk and 2 tablespoons melted butter in measuring cup or small bowl. Add liquid to dry ingredients and stir with wooden spoon until liquid is absorbed (dough will look very shaggy), about 30 seconds. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead until just smooth and no longer shaggy.

4. Pat dough with hands into 12 by 9-inch rectangle. Brush dough with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle evenly with filling, leaving 1/2-inch border of plain dough around edges. Press filling firmly into dough. Using bench scraper or metal spatula, loosen dough from work surface. Starting at long side, roll dough, pressing lightly, to form tight log. Pinch seam to seal. Roll log seam-side down and cut evenly into eight pieces. With hand, slightly flatten each piece of dough to seal open edges and keep filling in place. Place one roll in center of prepared nonstick pan, then place remaining seven rolls around perimeter of pan. Brush with 2 tablespoons remaining melted butter.

5. Bake until edges are golden brown, 23 to 25 minutes. Use offset metal spatula to loosen buns from pan. Wearing oven mitt, place large plate over pan and invert buns onto plate. Place greased cooling rack over plate and invert buns onto rack. Cool about 5 minutes before icing.

6. TO MAKE ICING AND FINISH BUNS: While buns are cooling, line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (for easy cleanup); set rack with buns over baking sheet. Whisk cream cheese and buttermilk in large nonreactive bowl until thick and smooth (mixture will look like cottage cheese at first). Sift confectioners' sugar over; whisk until smooth glaze forms, about 30 seconds. Spoon glaze evenly over buns; serve immediately. The buns are best eaten warm, but they hold up reasonably well for up to 2 hours.