Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cookie Crazy

Lately I have been cookie obsessed. I've been trying to create a buttery, caramely, brown sugary cookie base for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I've tried many recipes including Cook's Illustrated "The Perfect Chocolate Chip", Alton Brown's "The Chewy" and variations of the "The Puffy". I've changed and doctored the classic Toll House recipe, gave the Baked NYC cookie a whirl and tried the New York Times Chocolate Chip by Jacque Torres. I agree that good things come to those who wait, but waiting 24 hours to eat a cookie that you wanted yesterday is too much.

After many hours of baking, lot's of dough scooping, cookie eating + constructive feedback I finally made my perfect chocolate chip. My family, friends + co-workers have all approved. Not only have I used the batter for chocolate chips but I tried white chocolate chips, cookies + cream (with crushed oreos) and a cookie with pretzels and toffee. Although I can't share this new secret recipe (in hopes that it will be a top seller in a non-existent future business) but I will provide a few helpful ideas for your own cookie adaptations.

1. Brown the butter, this makes for a rich, caramel-like flavor
2. Use bread flour, not only bread flour but a combination with all-purpose flour.
3. Use dark brown sugar + lots of it. I increased the amount of brown sugar in my recipe over granulated, it provides a better texture + flavor.
4. Add both milk chocolate + semi-sweet chocolate chips.
5. Salt, use it. As Dorie Greenspan said, "You can't underestimate the importance of salt in sweet baked goods."
6. Always, always use parchment or a silpat. Nobody likes a cookie scraped off a pan leaving behind melty chocolate delight.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lemon Bars

Sweltering heat + terrible humidity = unhappy chicagoans. I'm hating this ridiculously hot weather. I don't have a pool, so I decided to make lemon bars; cool + refreshing. Lemon bars are the perfect combination of tart+ sweet, although heavy with their custard-like base, it's hard to eat just one. Enjoy this recipe if you too find yourself melting, beach anyone?

Lemon Bars
adapted from Classic Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti via Foodgal

For crust:

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

12 tablespoons cold unsalted, butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For filling:

6 large eggs

3 cups granulated sugar

1 cup + 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup flour

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until mixed. Add butter and continue to mix until butter is the size of small peas, about 30 seconds. The mixture will be very dry. Gently press mixture evenly onto the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

To make filling: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and granulated sugar until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and then the flour. Pour filling on top of crust.

Bake until lemon filling is set, about 30-40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and then put in the refrigerator for 1 hour or keep at room temperature for 3 hours before cutting. Cut into squares measuring about 2 1/4 inches and dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes + San Francisco

I spent the past weekend exploring + eating my way through the city of San Francisco. I'm embarrassed to admit that I gained 3-5 lbs in just a few days by eating delicious meals that I immediately followed with some form of delicious sweet treat. And I mean every meal. Breakfast was followed by lemon-almond tea loaf at Tartine, lunch was followed by cream puffs at Thorough Bread + Pastry and dinner was finished with moscato-marinated strawberry mascarpone tart AND chocolate gelato with amaretti. I'm leaving out the details of each fabulous meal and all the snacks that shamefully snuck in there as well because, frankly if you read how much I actually consumed you would be shocked or amazed, or both.

For those who don't know, this September I am making a cross-country move from Chicago to San Fran to attend a professional bread + pastry program at the San Francisco Baking Institute. After checking out my new city, I could not be more excited! Upon my arrival home I had a request for a cupcake order. So here I share the recipe for fabulous vanilla bean cupcakes + rich chocolate frosting. The richness of the frosting is cut by the not-too-sweet vanilla cake. Enjoy!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

from Annie's Eats

3 cups cake flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
16 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together and set aside. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the bowl of the mixer with the butter and discard the pod (or reserve for another use.) Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.

Add the sugar to the butter mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full (you will likely have batter left over after filling 24 wells.) Bake 18-22 minutes**, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Replace paper liners and bake remaining batter if desired. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

**I made mini cupcakes, baked to perfection in 13 minutes.

Rich Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 cup shortening

1 tbsp vanilla

2 lbs powdered sugar

4-6 tbsp milk

12 oz. good qualitysemi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled

3-4 heaping tbsp cocoa powder

2-3 tbsp Kahlua

Whip together butter and shortening until smooth. Add in vanilla. Whip in confectioners sugar 1/4 at a time until it's all added. Pour cooled chocolate and cocoa in and mix until combined. Add milk one table spoon at a time until it reaches desired consistency. Mix in Kahlua and whip until light and fluffy.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Torta di Mele

I was fortunate enough to study in Sesto Fiorentino, Italy (a town right outside of Florence) for a semester during college. I loved absolutely everything about my time there: the history, the fashion, the art and the views. But if I had to pick only one thing that defined my time there, I most definitely have to say it was the food.

We had our own chef in the villa I lived and studied in, an adorable old man named Nino. Day after day, he would go to the market to pick up fresh ingredients in order to prepare us our daily lunch, dinner and dessert. The ingredients came from within miles of where we lived and were purchased every morning; words cannot express the true freshness that was contained in every meal we ate. (Well, there was a lot of butter in there too, which would explain why everyone on the program gained about 10 pounds...)

But the most amazing part about what Nino cooked for us every day was the actual simplicity of his dishes. He could create true masterpieces with the use of only a few simple ingredients, something that few people can do with their cooking and baking.

While unpacking a box this week, I stumbled on some crumpled pieces of paper. As I unfolded them, I realized I had just found gold: my copies of recipes from the Villa Corsi-Salviati kitchen. While most of them are pasta dishes (including the best pesto recipe ever), there are a few dessert recipes as well, one of which I am sharing in this post.

This Torta di Mele is extremely simple to make, requiring only 9 ingredients and a few minutes in the kitchen. If you make sure to use the freshest milk, apples and lemons in this torta, you will not be disappointed with the result. You may even feel like you are on a quick trip to Italy.

Torta di Mele
from the Villa Corsi-Salviati kitchen

3 Granny Smith apples
juice of one lemon
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
7 tablespoons melted butter
a little over 3/4 cups sifted flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Peel the apples and cut them into thin slices. Place them in a bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice. In a separate bowl, mix all other ingredients until it becomes a semi-liquid batter. Add in the apple slices to the mixture and stir until coated and thoroughly mixed in.

Pour mixture into a round pan and place in the oven for about 45 minutes. The torta should be golden brown on top. Once removed from the oven and slightly cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Buon appetito!