Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sweet Dreams

After a tough day, when the kids have been arguing, dinner didn't turn out well, I've got deadlines hanging over my head, and a headache has been following me all day like an evil puppy, I can't wait to get to bed. Sleep is the ultimate escape.

When I switch off my conscious brain, I enter a wonderful world where anything is possible. Sometimes I can fly. Sometimes I can fit in my high school jeans. Sometimes Colin Firth has just emerged dripping wet from a brief dip in the lake and wants to show me his mansion. Sometimes all in the same dream. And it all makes sense.

This dessert is like a dream. Improbably easy, light as a feather, melts away on your tongue, and is lingeringly delicious. It won't help you fit in your high school jeans, make you fly, or give you that encounter with Colin Firth, but it will make a rough day a little sweeter. Go ahead and dream with your eyes wide open.

Lemon Cream Dreams
serves 6

3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice*
4 oz white chocolate, chopped

1- Place a mixing bowl and beaters into the freezer to chill. Heat water in a saucepan to boiling.

2- In a heatproof bowl, beat the eggs until blended. Stir in sugar and the lemon juice.

3- Place the bowl over the pan of boiling water and cook, stirring continuously with a wire whisk until the mixture thickens to a pudding consistency.

3- Remove the bowl from the heat and add the white chocolate, stirring until it's melted and completely incorporated. Set aside and cool to room temperature. When cool, cover and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or more.

4- Using the chilled bowl and beaters, whip the cream to firm peaks. Gently fold the lemon mixture into the whipped cream. Spoon into beautiful serving dishes. Chill for 2 hours before serving. Garnish, if desired with a twist of lemon peel, a candied violet, or a dollop of whipped cream.

* If Meyer lemons are unavailable, use regular lemons. It will just be a bit more tart.

In Trouble Again

Usually I'm pretty good about the things I bake. I can taste, have a piece or two, then be done. I might even have baked goods go stale and be tossed, just because there's such a glut of baked goods in my kitchen.

Every once in a while, though, I stumble upon something that's treacherous, something that's addictive, something I just can't walk away from. Then I know I'm in trouble. I know I need to get it out of the house pronto, before I gobble the entire batch!

Recently I found another such recipe. It seemed innocuous enough. Peanut butter cookies. With peanut butter chips. What could be so evil about that? Why do they sing to me from the cookie jar, like a siren luring my diet to its ruin?

These are deceptively simple. A rich, moist cookie base, studded with hits of extra peanut butter, with a crunchy, sugary shell. Horrible, horrible combination. Trust me. You want nothing to do with these cookies! But if you don't trust me and go ahead and bake them, don't say I didn't warn you. And if you need help getting rid of the rest of the cookies, call me.

Siren Peanut Butter Cookies
- adapted from The Hasketeers

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup Reese's Peanut Butter Chips
granulated sugar for dipping

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. with racks dividing the oven into thirds.

2- In the bowl of an electric mixer beat butter, brown sugar, peanut butter and egg together. Beat until creamy.

3- In a small bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and blend together. Stir in the peanut butter chips.

4- Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll them in granulated sugar and place on ungreased baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookie.

5- Bake for 9-10 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Bread Baking Babes Go Gluten-Free!

When I started blogging I'd never heard of gluten-intolerance. It wasn't until I found Gluten Free Girl that I learned that gluten, the protein in flour that gives bread its structure, made some people sick. And after I learned that, people with gluten issues started popping up all around me.

My sister baked gluten-free treats for her knitting group, my daughter has a gluten-intolerant friend in her Bible study group, and my chiropractor, one of my favorite people to bake for, informed me that he was trying out the gluten-free lifestyle, too.

How timely, then, for Mary, this month's host kitchen, to choose a gluten-free bread for the Babes' challenge. And a no knead bread, at that!

Gluten-free loaves are specially suited for no knead because the kneading is there to develop the gluten strands. No gluten means no need to knead! It just lots of long, slow, cool rising.

Once I'd gotten all the special flours, it was quite easy to put this loaf together. The only time I ran into trouble was on the second rise. The directions say to let the loaf rise for 2-1/2 to 4 hours, until the dough is 1/8-inch above the pan rim. Well, I walked by my rising loaf after an hour and freaked - it was already there! I quickly turned on my oven, but by the time it had preheated, the dough was woofling down the sides of the pan.

I baked the loaf pan on top of a cookie sheet. Good thing - it caught all the dough dribbles that would otherwise be now encrusted on the bottom of my oven. After chiseling off the burnt dribbles, the bread released easily from the pan. The dribbles were actually my husband's favorite part. He said they made great crackers. He recommended that if I made the dough again to just spread a thin layer on a pan and make it all into crackers.

Did we all love it? Meh. But then we're spoiled by lots of good bread here. For someone forbidden to eat most breads, I'd imagine this would be a huge treat. I'll find out when I take some to my chiropractor.

Thanks, Mary, for picking this fun and really different recipe! Please check out what the other Babes came up with (Blogs on the sidebar). And if you'd like to bake along and get a Bread Baking Buddy badge, you have till March 31st to bake your bread, post it, and send a link to Mary.

Gluten Free No Knead Hearty Seeded Sandwich Bread
from Nancy Baggett's Kneadlessly Simple

1 2/3 cup white rice flour, divided (may need more depending on your dough)
1/2 cup cornmeal or brown rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/3 cup flax seed or golden flax seed meal
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1 1/3 cup ice water
1/3 cup corn or canola oil
1/4 cup molasses (not black strap)
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 cup plain yogurt, drained of excess liquid
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 Tablespoon of mixed seeds (millet, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, etc)

First Rise:
In large bowl, stir together 1 1/3 cups of white rice flour, cornmeal or brown rice flour, tapioca flour, flax seed meal, salt, yeast, and 2 Tbsp seed mixture. In another bowl, whisk together water, oil, molasses and mix thoroughly with flour mixture. If too stiff to blend, add more water to form a barely firm dough. (This confused me. It's not at all a dough, it's a very thick batter.) Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. For best flavor, refrigerate dough for 3 - 10 hrs then let stand at cool room temperature for 12 - 18hrs. Dough will stiffen as it stands and it is alright if it doesn't rise very much.

Second Rise:
Whisk egg and set aside 1 Tbsp to brush top of loaf. Stir the yogurt, baking powder, and 1/3 cup white rice flour into the remaining egg. Vigorously stir the yogurt mixture into the First Rise dough until completely mixed. If it is too soft, you can add more of the rice flour (white or brown, doesn't matter which). Turn dough into a well greased 9" x 5" loaf pan and brush a little oil on top of loaf. Brush the reserved egg and seeds over the surface. Using a well oiled serrated knife, make a 1/2" deep cut lengthwise down the loaf. Cover the pan with a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap.

Let dough stand for 2 1/2 - 4 hrs in a warm room until dough extends 1/8" above the pan rim (mine reached this point in an hour under a warming light). Loosen plastic wrap as dough nears top of pan to prevent dough from smooshing down.

15 minutes before baking, place a rack in the lower third of the oven and pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake bread on the lower rack for 55-60 minutes, until the top is nicely browned. If the top starts to over brown, cover with a piece of foil. Continue baking until a skewer inserted comes out with few crumbs or the internal temperature of the bread reaches 206-208 degrees. Bake for 5 minutes more. Remove bread from oven, and leaving bread in pan, let cool on wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and let cool completely before slicing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Plain Jane Dessert

Whenever I got into a bakery I drool over the cases of beautifully decorated cakes and pastries. I adore the elaborate designs, garnishes, and extra effort the baker put in to make such lovely baked goods. But when I'm baking for myself, I never do anything like that. Although I bookmark extravagant desserts, the ones I make time after time are the never-fail, homely but delicious treats.

This coffee cake is a perfect example. It's not at all winsome in its looks, yet beneath it's craggy, plain surface, lies a moist, flavorful cake that will make you come back for seconds. And thirds.

I know it's not the loveliest cake on the block, but try it. Trust me - you won't be disappointed.

Double Apple Streusel Coffee Cake
- adapted from the excellent You Made That Dessert? by Beth Lipton

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 packed dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup chopped pecans

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce, at room temperature
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup plain yogurt, at room temperature (full fat is best, but low-fat is OK)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 small sweet apple, such as Gala or Yellow Delicious, peeled and roughly chopped

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the center. Spray an 8-inch square pan with cooking spray.

2- For the streusel, in a medium bowl combine the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine well. Add the butter pieces and work in with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers until it resembles coarse sand. Add the pecans and toss with your fingers to mix. Cover and place in the refrigerator.

3- For the cake, in a large bowl combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; whisk well to combine. Make sure all brown sugar lumps are broken up.

4- In another large bowl combine the applesauce, melted butter, yogurt, vanilla, and egg; beat with a whisk to combine well.

5- Add the flour mixture to the applesauce mixture all at once. Use a flexible spatula to stir the two mixtures together. Add the chopped apple. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to be sure there are no pockets of dry flour. Be careful not to overstir, though, as that results in a tough cake.

6- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Sprinkle the streusel over the top.

7- Bake the cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve.

(Note: I baked my cake for 15 minutes longer than the time stated. Rely on the toothpick to figure out when it's done.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

2 Weddings and a Funny Recipe

Business first today - The winner of the Green Mint Chip giveaway is ...... Hobby Baker! Please email me your address (to lynncraigATcomcastDOTnet) and I'll get it sent to you right away. Congratulations and happy baking!

This past weekend we had a wedding. It wasn't as stressful as the previous wedding because It was our son getting married, not our daughter. If you're one of those people who has all boysl, I say, "Good call!" Have a son get married is sooo much easier. You put on the rehearsal dinner, show up for the wedding, and smile for the pictures.

Since my daughter was married in our back yard and all of the catering was done out of my kitchen, I had to clean, scrub, tidy, dust, vacuum, and generally get my house looking pristine. For this wedding, I only had my sister staying with us so I vacuumed, swept, and cleaned off the counters. Sort of. I cleaned by baking.

I first saw these cookies on David Lebovitz's site. He called them amnesty cookies. The original recipe called them compost cookies. I call them Packrat Cookies. If you are unable to throw away that 1/2 cup of chips, pretzels, candy or mystery baking ingredients so have bags with a twist ties, rubber bands, or clips, taking up room in your pantry, cupboard, or counter, these are the cookies for you.

I used this baking experiment as an excuse to use up that 1/4 bag of pretzels that no one would eat because they were whole grain, so they tasted "funny;" that plastic container with 1/3 cup of chopped Giandujia chocolate that I bought just to try but never figure out what to do with, the tiny pieces of chips from the bottom of the tortilla chip container, some white chocolate wafers lurking in a zip loc bag, and a few other odds and ends I tossed in there.

Were they the most wonderful cookies I've ever had? Well, no. But they were pretty good. The biggest complaint I got about them was their size. It's quite a commitment to take on one of these cookies. I'm not sure it would work to make them smaller, though, since they've got big chunks of stuff inside. Smaller chunks wouldn't be as fun. It's the lottery of each bite, not knowing if you're going to bite into a pocket of sweet or salty, that makes these so enjoyable.

Also, I baked the sheets one at a time. The first sheet I baked 9 minutes, checked, then baked an additional 2 minutes. They had globby centers and might not have been completely baked. The second batch, at 9 minutes were very pale. 2 more minutes and I checked. Still pale and spreading a bit. 2 more minutes and still pale and I realized when I'd taken the first batch out of the oven, I'd turned the oven off. Turn the oven back on and 4 more minutes had the second batch perfectly baked. I don't know that I'd recommend recreating that scenario, just be aware that the baking time needs some attention.

Now go clean out those cupboards and purge the leftovers. You might find so much that you'll need to make a couple of batches!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Green Equals Mint

My mother is a very creative woman. She is an accomplished musician and weaver, and she loves creating beauty. I think the "little kids at home" phase of her life squashed her creativity and made it pop out in unusual places. I well remember the lunch that she prepared for St. Patrick's Day one year. Everything was green. Everything. The milk. The cottage cheese. Green. Euwww.

I know Mom meant is to be a fun St. Pat's treat, but, really, green cottage cheese? I don't need to add food coloring to get my cottage cheese green - I just leave it alone in the back of the fridge for 2 months. And, no, it's not a fun treat for anyone!

What is a fun treat is when green means mint. Creme de menthe, mint ice cream, and mint chips. And what better partner for mint than chocolate? Deep, dark, delicious, ooey gooey chocolate brownies. Yummmmm.

Now the last time I posted something using these chips I did get some comments that the chips were unavailable to my readers in some areas. To forestall the same avalanche of complaints (well, maybe it was only 2 readers, but I hate for people to be unhappy), I'm going to give away a bag of mint chips to one lucky reader from the United States or Canada. I's not a freebie that I got from Guittard, just something from my personal stash to help make your St. Patrick's Day a little more sweet.

If you'd like to be entered to win, just leave a comment. I'll announce the winner on Monday.

Luck O' the Irish Brownies
- adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter
2-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1-1/2 cups (6-1/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups (12 oz bag) mint chips*

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan.

2- In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Heat briefly, just till it's hot, but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl.

3- Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. Add the eggs, beating till smooth; then add the flour and chips, beating till well combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

4- Bake the brownies for 28 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out mostly dry, with a few crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set on the edges and in the center. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Run a table knife around the edges to loosen them; this helps prevent the brownies from sinking in the middle as they cool. Cool completely before cutting. Makes 2 dozen brownies.

* To make your stash of mint chips go farther, you can use 1 cup mint chips and 1 cup chocolate chips.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Let Me Twist Your Arm

I may be mild-mannered in most respects, but I do possess one skill which borders on super-hero quality - I'm really good at rationalizing. If you're on a budget, you don't want to go shopping with me. I have freakish powers of persuasion when it comes to getting friends to buy things they want but know they shouldn't spend the money on. I can set out a line of reasoning which, when followed to the end, leads to the inevitable conclusion that to buy the dress (purse, shoes, handbag, or 20 lb. brick of chocolate) is not only reasonable, it's downright sensible.

I know that I must use my super-power only for good, so I try to reign it in when I know friends are really attemptin to watch their pennies. But my super skill is not limited to shopping; it carries over to eating.

I was the first person I knew to propose that chocolate is actually health food. Long before there was all this talk of antioxidants, I held that chocolate came from beans, and everyone knows beans are an important component of a healthy diet. Therefore, it was prudent to include chocolate in your diet every day.

Everyone knows muffins are healthy, right? Cupcakes are decadent treats, but muffins are just bundles of nutrition, appropriate for any time of day. But if you add chocolate to the muffins, you're making it super food, the dietary equivalent of a bullet train, speeding nutrition and antioxidants to your body. And if you add chocolate in three forms, plus buttermilk, plus whole wheat flour, well, don't walk to the kitchen to make these - RUN!

Double Chocolate Chocolate Muffins
- adapted from The Complete Muffin Cookbook

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
1-1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped milk chocolate

1-3/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1- Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. Grease a muffin tin. This recipe yields 12 big muffins or 18-24 average size muffins.

2- Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chocolate chips and chopped chocolate and sitr to combine.

3- Whisk the wet ingredients in a medium bowl or blend in a food processor. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture. Stir just until mixed. Do not overstir.

4- Spoon the batter into a greased muffin tin. Fill each cup nearly to the top.

5- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

6- Cool the muffins at least 10 minutes before removing from the tin.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Did It (and you can, too)

I'm not really much of a joiner. My rebellious side doesn't do well with others telling me what to do. I was talked into joining the Daring Bakers and I was delighted to be a member during the time I participated. But I soon found that I chafed under the rules and wasn't always eager to make the challenge that was selected. Either it wasn't a challenge for me, or I didn't have anybody to eat that particular challenge, and it was really wasteful to make something just to be part of the group. So I dropped DB.

But I do have many mountains left to conquer in the cooking realm. So I'm starting a new group. It's actually an UnGroup. You don't have to ask to join. You don't have to follow anyone else's schedule. You won't feel left out if you don't participate.

So what is this ungroup? It's the I Did It! ungroup. You select the challenge - you know best what intimidates you, what you've been putting off trying. When you put up your post, just slap up this logo to let the world know you've taken on something new and given it a good kicking!

(Special thanks to the super-talented Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms for making the badge for me!)

Go ahead, grab the badge right now and tuck it into a folder to save for later. All I ask is that you put a link to this post by the badge so the word can spread and others can push themselves and reward their efforts with a high five.

This year, since I'm starting late in the year, there will be ten opportunities to high five yourself. (Of course, since this is an ungroup, with almost no rules, you can high five yourself as often as you like). You could do ten in one month, or one a month, or whatever you're inspired to do. In December, if you've posted ten I Did It's!, send me the link and I'll send you back an official High Ten! Badge to put on your blog, plus a round-up of all the participants.

So, grab that badge, store it with the link to this post, and start making a list of all the things you've wanted to try, but just needed an excuse or a small push to do. I can't wait to see what you come up with!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Daintea Bread

There is a restaurant around here that's quite popular and I just don't get why. Whenever I ask people who've been there what it's like, they always say, "The portions are huge!" OK, but what's the food like? "Well, the portions are huge!" If pressed even further they might admit that the food quality is mediocre at best, but, "you get a lot of it!"

If I don't like it much to begin with, why would I want even more of it?

I'm not impressed by a piece of cake big enough to feed my family. I'd much rather have something dainty and delicious. I'm a fan of small servings that leave me satisfied, not bloated. This delicious tea bread fits the bill perfectly. Made in mini-loaf pans, each slice is moist with lemon glaze, has a soft, but not squishy texture, and is lightly sweet. Perfect for topping off a meal, or rounding out a tea tray. Plus, since you have two loaves, you have an extra one to share with a friend. Isn't that the sweetest way to enjoy your dessert?

Dainty Lemon Tea Bread

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup 2% milk
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. with a rack in the center of the oven. Grease two 5-3/4 x 3-inch loaf pans.

2- Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

3- In a medium bowl cream the butter and 1 cup sugar. Add egg and lemon zest. Beat well.

4- Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Beat till smooth.

5- Divide the batter equally between the two loaf pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

6- While the loaves are baking, prepare the glaze. Mix the lemon juice with the confectioners' sugar and stir till smooth.

7 -Cool in the pans for 5 minutes then pour half the glaze over the loaves. Let the loaves cool another 5 minutes, then remove the loaves to a wire rack. Drizzle the remaining glaze over the loaves.