Monday, August 31, 2015

Buttery Snickerdoodles

Well, he left us.

Matthew is officially a full-day Kindergartner and couldn't be happier about it. He woke up bright and early on his first day of school and woke me up while chanting: "I'm so excited to go to school!"

I, however, was not so ready for this moment. For breakfast, Matthew and I split a large serving of scrambled eggs and then I helped him get his uniform on. We then woke up his sisters, snapped a few photos, and headed off to school. Each day, we are supposed to walk Matthew into the school gymnasium where he is to sit with his class until dismissed to his classroom by the morning bell. The path leading up to the gymnasium was crawling with parents, students, and little siblings all rushing about. It was a bit of a chaotic walk holding Lucy, grasping onto Emma's hand, and watching Matthew the big Kindergartner leading the way with his backpack swung confidently over his shoulder. When we finally reached the gym, Matthew suddenly became shy but his teacher waved him over to where the rest of his class was seated and he turned to give me a quick wave and then...that was it. He is now going to school full-time like he will be until he reaches adulthood. I had a lump in my throat as I walked somberly back to the car with my two girls. I think Emma shared my morose sentiments for upon strapping her back in her car seat she began to weep: "I miss Matthew! Please can I go with him?"

We pretty much watched the clock all day in anticipation of pick-up time. When it was finally time to head out the door, Emma moved faster than I have ever seen her go, rushing to strap her shoes on so she could go pick-up her big brother. I'm sure the day will come when she begins to relish the time she has alone with me, but for now she still is very much mourning the loss of her favorite playmate.

I am mourning the loss of having him at home all the time as well. Then, he was home all weekend and we had an extremely difficult time with him behavior-wise and suddenly I found myself thinking: "I can't wait until you go back to school on Monday, kid." Funny how that works.

For our cookie recipe for today, I am sharing a recipe for buttery snickerdoodles. Now, this was the last cookie that Matthew and I baked together with the intention of saving for school lunches. However, I must confess that these cookies never had a chance of making it into a packed lunch. Now with Paul around at least, for snickerdoodles are his favorite. Matthew and I made about four dozen of these and then made the grand mistake of leaving them in a plastic storage box on the counter-top for Paul to find. They were gone within 24 hours. He did have some help - Emma and Matthew voraciously devoured these too! I can't really blame them -these were awesome - and that's coming from someone who historically has not been a fan of the snickerdoodle.

A simple sugar cookie - addictively buttery and chewy - rolled in a cinnamon spice and sugar coating. These tasted like fall to me! At least the one cookie I tried did. Next time, I'm hiding these from Paul.

Buttery Snickerdoodles
from King Arthur Flour

For the Dough:
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

For the Coating:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment..

Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. Beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the egg, beating until smooth. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture, mixing until totally incorporated.

To make the coating: Shake together the sugar and cinnamon in a medium-sized zip-top plastic bag.

Drop 1" balls of dough into the bag; a teaspoon cookie scoop works well here. Roll/toss the cookies in the cinnamon-sugar until they're completely coated.

Space the cookies at least 1 1/2" apart on the prepared baking sheets. Use a flat-bottom glass to flatten them to about 3/8" thick; they'll be about 1 1/2" in diameter.

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes (for soft cookies) to 10 minutes (for crunchier cookies). Remove them from the oven, and cool them on the pan until they're firm enough to transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ginormous Bakery-Style Chocolate Chip Cookies

Out of the batches and batches of cookies Matthew and I made, these were probably his favorite. He made the entire batter himself (with major instruction on measuring and technique from me) and they turned out awesome. The recipe comes from the famed New York based Levain Bakery and I have been itching to try it for some time. The recipe utilizes bread flour to make some monstrously large, dense, chewy chocolate chip cookies. Matthew really loved how gigantic they were. I'm probably going to have to quarter or halve these to serve in his lunch because there is no way he could ever finish a whole cookie. 

Why do all little kids smile as if they're in a trance when it comes to taking pictures?
Matthew is almost unrecognizable when he takes pictures.
Who is this child baking cookies in my house?
I ask him to smile and this is the face I get. Quite frightening. 
Matthew and I had a blast making these together. He especially got a kick out of plopping the dough in very large balls onto the baking sheet. However, he was quite perturbed that the dough balls have to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking. Patience is not his forte. Rest assured, he found ways to entertain himself (pestering his little sister) and soon enough it was time for the cookies to bake!

We all loved these. This is definitely one of the best chocolate chip cookie recipes I have tried. I'd have to do a taste test next to my other favorite recipe to determine a true winner, but either way this is a recipe I will make again in the future. Buttery, dense, chocolaty, and just plain good, it is imperative that these cookies be served with a tall glass of milk. And napkins if you're as messy as my munchkins.

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Brown Eyed Baker

3 cups (13½ ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
¾ cup + 4 teaspoons (6 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, cold, lightly beaten in a separate bowl
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups dark chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (we omitted, but next time they're going in!)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until it comes together in one cohesive mass, about 1 minute. Add both sugars and continue to beat for another 1 to 2 minutes, until all of the sugar has been incorporated into the butter. Gradually add the eggs and vanilla and continue beating on medium speed until mixed, scraping the sides of bowl once (the batter will appear lumpy). Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add the flour mixture until just a little bit of flour still remains. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts with a rubber spatula.

Divide the dough into 12 even pieces, just grabbing it by the handful and roughly shaping it into a ball (it should not be smooth). Place them (evenly spaced) on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 18-24 minutes, or until light golden brown on top. Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Back-To-School-Snacks: German Chocolate Cookie Bars

Do you remember having major food aversions as a kid? I hated tomatoes, beets, carrots, and flaked coconut. The tomatoes were juicy, squishy, and gross plus my skin always felt itchy if some of the tomato juice spilled on them. Beets were too "bloody" in appearance, carrots were bland and watery, and coconut simply ruined a perfectly nice cookie or cake. It's funny how things like that change, because now I love all those things! I also lament that I did not learn to love carrots sooner, because now I am doomed to wear contacts or glasses for the rest of my life. Perhaps if I had eaten some of that extra beta carotene, I could have avoided this optical handicap!

My kids similarly have issues with certain foods.  However, they definitely have some weird aversions to foods that are generally accepted as "kid-friendly". I shouldn't say "they" because I really just am referring to Matthew. The only thing Emma won't eat is lettuce. Matthew will not touch potatoes in any form (except maybe french fries...maybe), cheese (unless on a pizza), deli meat, and most breakfast cereals. However, he loves tomatoes (he'll eat them whole like an apple), carrots, and coconut. Beets do scare him, however,

However, coconut is one of his favorite flavors! So it came as no surprise that he chose these German Chocolate Cookie Bars to be part of our baking extravaganza. I loved how easy these were to throw together. They utilize a cake mix and although I'm all about making things from scratch, sometimes those cake mix desserts are the greatest! Thanks the the cake mix, this cookie recipe came together very quickly which was invaluable for the small attention span of my little helper.

We waited a good 24 hours to allow the cookies time to cool and chill in the fridge so we could cut them nicely and I assure you the torture was acute. But they were worth the wait! Matthew and I both loved them and how could we not? The gooey, delectable flavors of German Chocolate Cake (which happens to be my favorite) baked into a portable, hand-held form = one awesome cookie!

German Chocolate Cookie Bars
adapted slightly from Favorite Family Recipes

For the Crust:
1 box German Chocolate cake mix (or chocolate cake mix without the pudding added)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg

For the Filling:
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan or line with parchment.

In a medium bowl, mix together the cake mix, butter and egg, and press into the bottom of the prepared pan. The crust should not come up the sides. Bake for 7 minutes and remove from the oven. The crust will not look done.

While the crust is baking, mix together the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, egg, pecans and coconut. Pour evenly over the warm crust and sprinkle evenly with the chocolate chips. Bake for 24-30 minutes, until the top is a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares. I let these hang out in the fridge for about an hour before they were able to be sliced neatly. Let them come to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Back-to-School Snacks: Buttery Blondies with White Chocolate and Peanuts

A new school year is upon us. When the stores started displaying piles of notebooks, folders, crayons, and pencils, it actually meant something to our family this year for our very own Matthew will now be a full-time student. I can hardly believe it. It's truly the end of an era. He will be at school for the majority of the day and it will be just me and the girls at home. Believe me, we'll keep plenty busy but I'll miss my crazy little kid.

Well, partially.

I'm also really excited for him. He loves to learn, he loves to interact with other kids, and he is so, so excited to finally eat lunch at school. It might sound ridiculous, but I think that is what he is looking forward to the most. While I was picking out his polo shirts and slacks, he was carefully selecting the perfect lunch bag. And, above all else, he has requested that I pack him an apple every single day. Gigantic, sweet apples are probably his favorite thing to eat.

However, he has to pack more than just apples! Matthew's reply here: "Well, how about two apples?!"

Smart aleck.

In addition to the apple, the carrot sticks, the box of raisins, and the sandwich that will inevitably fill his lunchbox, I want him to always have a sweet treat that he can either eat with his lunch or have as a special after-school snack. Matthew and I perused through several cookbooks and websites before he selected a few batches of cookies that he wanted to help me make and freeze in preparation for school! The first recipe we made were these blondies.

Now, this is my favorite blondie recipe and I have made it probably a dozen times. However, this time Matthew wanted to choose the mix-ins. He was very specific: white chocolate and peanuts. Peanuts are his favorite nuts and he is pretty obsessed with white chocolate so I wasn't really surprised that this combination appealed to him. But that kid must be a secret genius or something because these were fabulous. I actually really loved the honey roasted peanuts in these - and combined with the white chocolate the flavor reminded me of my favorite peanut butter: the White Chocolate Wonderful from Peanut Butter & Co.

Blondies are awesome because they bake in one pan, slice into cute little bars, and freeze marvelously. Matthew and Emma heavily sampled the first batch (heavily) so I actually made two. These will make an awesome sweet lunch treat or after-school-snack.

Buttery Blondies with White Chocolate and Peanuts
blondie base recipe from Baking: From My Home to Yours

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups white chocolate chips
2 cups honey roasted peanuts

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until well incorporated. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until they disappear into the batter. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chips, nuts and coconut. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and use the spatula to even the top as best you can.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the blondies comes out clean. The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little and the top should be a nice honey brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool completely before cutting into bars. To get really neat cuts, let them hang out in the fridge for a bit until chilled. But it'll be hard not to dig in right away. Trust me.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Back in the Saddle Again

Hello! Did you miss us?

We're back from our intense trip to Colorado! Paul and I spent our anniversary exploring the Denver area and hiking some mountains. I plan on doing a recap of our trip at some point here - once I organize and edit the HUNDREDS of photos I took while we were out there. In the mean time, I am currently haphazardly trying to get Matthew ready for his first day of Kindergarten next week. He will be away from me for eight hours, five days a week. I am simultaneously looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time. As for Matthew? He can't wait to go. He's counting down the days. Every morning he tells me how many days left until he leaves me (my phrasing, not his!).

In honor of the first day of school fast approaching, I will be doing a series on cookie recipes for school lunches. Matthew's favorite treat is a cookie. He could care less about cake, pies, cobblers, and puddings. Give the kid a cookie! When we selected a lunchbox for Matthew, I was already brainstorming healthy and indulgent homemade treats I could stuff in it. I know he'll probably end up taking PB&J and a handful of chips, but initially here I'm going to try to pack the kid some creative lunches. And every awesome school lunch has to include dessert! Matthew and I carefully perused through many different cookie recipes before he selected four types to bake and freeze for his school lunches.  At this point, I think we have enough cookies to last until mid-November. I'm looking forward to sharing those recipes with you in the coming days.

For now, I'm currently cleaning out our closets, donating many items to Goodwill, struggling to assemble a trike for Emma, and enjoying my littlest smiling cherub.

Smiling babies should actually be categorized by the pharmaceutical industry as a powerful antidepressant.
--Jim Gaffigan, Dad is Fat

I couldn't agree more! However, it's been very difficult trying to capture her smiling on camera. She'll be cooing and grinning from ear-to-ear, but as soon as someone whips the camera out she suddenly turns stoical. We have to be super stealthy about it and the two photos above are the best we have! I'm working on coaxing her out of her camera shyness.

Look for my back-to-school cookie recipe series coming up in the next couple of days!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Chocolate Raspberry Torte

If you are in search of a show-stopping dessert that will appeal to both children and adults alike, look no further. This cake is probably one of the greatest creations to ever come out of my kitchen. I first made it way back in January 2009 for Paul's birthday and it has been one of our favorite desserts ever since. Paul is not a huge fan of chocolate, but he finds this fudgey almost-flourless chocolate cake with a sweet raspberry center and decadent ganache topping to be irresistible. It looks gorgeous, takes like it came from a professional bakery, yet takes almost no time to make. There are a few different steps between making the batter, baking, assembling, and decorating but none of them are difficult in the least. It's actually the perfect dessert to make with kids in the house because none of the components take too much time, leaving lots of opportunities for breaks to feed the baby, play with the kids, feed the kids, or change a diaper.

Maybe I shouldn't mention diapers in a blog post about food. But that is the reality of being both a mother and a personal chef. Sometimes, you gotta do both jobs simultaneously. Don't worry, I'm a firm believer in hand sanitizer.

But this cake! This cake is a play on the famed Viennese sachertorte. This recipe being a tribute to that cake appealed to my husband's German blood and compelled him to request it for his birthday treat. A traditional sachertorte consists of a dense chocolate sponge cake with an apricot filling. The entire cake is then covered in a dark chocolate icing. It is meant to be served with coffee.

Our version nixes the apricot filling in favor of raspberry (a wise decision in my mind), and utilizes almost-flourless (it is made of mainly ground almonds and a teeny bit of flour) chocolate cake layers to sandwich it together. Chocolate ganache is chosen as the rich frosting to engulf the top and sides of the finished cake.

At the time, I did not own a food processor but rather a very, low-power blender which I used to grind the nuts and mix the batter. It was quite the battle getting the almonds to a "flour-like" consistency, but I persevered and the end product turned out amazing. Fast-forward to re-making the cake again this year with a properly working food processor and I was taken aback by how much easier this recipe was to complete with the right equipment. However, the results were very much the same which shows that either one can be used to make this cake - you just might want to defenestrate
your blender out of frustration since it takes a lot longer to get the correct consistency.

But the results are so worth the frustration! This cake is divine. Divine, I tell you. It's rich. It's fancy. It's sweet but not too sweet. It's amazing.

Paul has since visited Austria on business and tried a couple authentic sachertortes. He was so disappointed by how dry and bland every single one of them was. He far prefers this very inauthentic, Americanized version of the cake for its superior taste and texture.

Make it! No regrets will be had.

Chocolate Raspberry Torte
from Cook's Illustrated November/December 2010

For the Cake and Filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 3/4 cups (about 7 ounces) sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (1 1/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
5 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup fresh raspberries, plus 16 individual berries for garnishing cake
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam

For the Chocolate Ganache Glaze:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. n large heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with simmering water melt chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Mix in vanilla and espresso powder.

In the bowl of a food processor, process 3/4 cup almonds until coarsely chopped, about eight 1-second pulses; set aside to garnish cake. Process remaining cup almonds until very finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flour and salt and process until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer almond-flour mixture to medium bowl. In the now-empty food processor, process eggs until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Using whisk, gently fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture until some streaks of egg remain. Sprinkle half almond-flour mixture over chocolate-egg mixture and gently whisk until just combined. Sprinkle in remaining almond-flour mixture and gently whisk until just combined.

Divide batter between cake pans and smooth with an off-set spatula. Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until center is firm and toothpick inserted into center comes out with few moist crumbs attached. Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan. Run paring knife around sides of cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto cardboard rounds cut same size as diameter of cake and remove parchment paper. Using wire rack, re-invert one cake so top side faces up; slide back onto cardboard round.

In a medium bowl coarsely mash ½ cup raspberries with a fork. Stir in raspberry jam until just combined. Spread raspberry mixture onto cake layer that is top side up. Top with second cake layer, leaving it bottom side up. Transfer assembled cake, still on cardboard round, to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.

To make the glaze, in a medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with simmering water, melt chocolate and cream together, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and gently whisk until very smooth. Pour glaze onto center of assembled cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze evenly over top of cake, letting it flow down sides. Spread glaze along sides of cake to coat evenly.

Using a fine-mesh strainer, sift reserved almonds to remove any fine bits. Holding bottom of cake on cardboard round with one hand, gently press sifted almonds onto cake sides with other hand. Arrange raspberries around circumference. Refrigerate cake, still on rack, until glaze is set, at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Transfer cake to serving platter, slice, and serve.

Recipe Note: If refrigerate the cake for more than 1 hour in step 6, let it stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.