27 December 2008

Peanut Butter Fudge

Now, I'm not a huge candy maker. But fudge is one of those things that I make every year, and even better than the yawn-worthy regular chocolate fudge is that fantastic stuff known as peanut butter fudge.

Creamy, very velvety and luscious. I've had issues in the past with peanut butter fudge recipes - they always seemed to turn out crumbly and grainy. Not this rich confection, though! It is going to be my new standard. The added benefit is that the recipe makes A TON - I halved it, and still had lots to give out to family and friends. Awesome :)

Peanut Butter Fudge

2 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 stick butter
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/2 can evaporated milk
20 oz. peanut butter
2 healthy Tbsp. marshmallow cream

Butter a 9 x 9 inch pan well and set aside.

Mix the sugar, butter, evaporated milk and corn syrup in a large, heavy pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook without stirring until the mixture reaches softball stage (235 F - 240 F).

Remove from heat and quickly stir in the peanut butter and marshmallow cream; beat well with a large wooden spoon and pour into the buttered pan.

Cool at room temperature until set and cut into squares.

24 December 2008

Aunt Syl's Pecan Sandies

I yanked this recipe out of one of my Penzey's catalog, oh - maybe 5 winters ago? Like, seriously one of my holiday favorites. I'm lucky if the cookies survive from baking day to the holidays a few days later (I have no self control with these things).

They are so easy to throw together. And yeah, lots of butter but other than that seem fairly heavy for holiday cookies - not much sugar, no eggs (which makes eating the dough guilt-free!). I adore the crumbly texture and buttery pecan flavor. With chocolate chips to boot, mmm. These suckers are perfect.

Aunt Syl's Pecan Sandies
(from Penzey's)

1 3/4 c. flour, sifted
1 c. pecans, chopped small
6 oz. chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (semi-sweet or bittersweet)
3/4 c. butter
1/3 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. cold water
1/4 c. powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 F. Mix flour, nuts, and chocolate chips, and set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream butter, add sugar gradually and cream until fluffy. Add vanilla extract and water and mix. Gradually add flour mixture and blend well.

Mold dough into balls, using 1 tsp. dough for each ball. Don’t worry if the dough is crumbly–add 1 extra tablespoon of water if you have a hard time making a ball.

Bake on ungreased baking sheets for about 23 minutes. While cookies are warm, sprinkle with powdered sugar (or give them a good roll in it, like I did). Store in an airtight container.

21 December 2008

Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

Pretty stained glass cookies! After getting the low down from Leslie (personal chef extraordinaire) about these cookie cutters at Williams Sonoma, I couldn't resist. Too cute! And there's a million different ways to use them, with shortbreads or maybe as linzer cookie cutters and for gingerbread or sugar cookies... They are a PITA to clean, though, just FYI if you purchase them yourself...
These chocolate cut-out cookies are great - they only spread slightly, have a wonderful deep chocolate flavor, and are nice and soft. If you want to make stained glass cookies like I did, just crush some Lifesaver or other colored hard candies, and fill the gaps in your cut shapes with the crushed candy. They will melt nicely while your cookies bake up.

Thanks again Leslie! :)
Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies
(adapted from AllRecipes.com)

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
3/4 c. butter, softened
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 egg + 1 yolk
1 tsp. vanilla

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg. Gradually stir in the sifted ingredients to form a soft dough. Divide dough into 2 pieces, flatten and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 F . On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4-inch in thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Dough is sticky so be sure to add more flour to the rolling surface as needed. Place cookies 1 1/2 inches apart onto cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven (mine were more on the 7-8 minute range, to keep them soft). Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

15 December 2008

Ambrosia Macaroons

Recently I had a few long-ish flights to a 4-day business meeting that I was attending. I did my usual, stocked up on a few magazines and grabbed a book. This time, I picked up Twilight, because I was hearing about this "Twilight Phenomenon" and how it was "the New 'Harry Potter' for our time" from practically everyplace I went. It was on sale for like 3 bucks, so why not.

So have you read this yet? If you haven't well, let's just say it was a teenage love story about vampires who are sparkly in the sunlight, and leave it at that. The author's writing wasn't the best, and some parts made me crack up where I was probably supposed to sigh over the passion of it all. It is humorous and entertaining in a campy way but I also must say I am slightly embarrassed that I ever picked it up from the Bargain Bin. Jeez, you guys are supposed to warn me about this stuff. To top it off, people kept seeing me with the book on my flights and interrupting me to discuss about the darn thing. They were all "Ooo, Twilight! How-do-you-like-it-what-part-are-you-at-are-you-going-to-see-the-movie??" and I wanted to be like PLEASE LADY JUST LAY OFF I CAN'T GET PAST THIS PART WHERE THEY ARE PLAYING VAMPIRE BASEBALL. (* And yes, they play vampire baseball. With fancy special uniforms and everything! Yeah, it was insanely awesome.)

In the author's defense, so I don't come across as "that jaded mean a-hole Nemmie", I will say that I guess I can see why some of the kids like this book (it is Young Adult fiction, after all). I am just a bit too old and un-romantical for all of that stuff. And I'm not a Mormon. So carry on, little romantics out there. Enjoy your vampire love in all its glittering glory.

So anyway, that story really has nothing to do with these macaroons. However I did get the latest Bon Appetit magazine to get me through the trip as well, and I loved it much much more than the sparkly vampire book. As per usual for the holiday issues of food magazines, there was lots I want to make in that issue, and the first I decided to give a shot was Ambrosia Macaroons. I am not a huge lover of coconut but I do enjoy a nice macaroon, plus the whole "Southern ambrosia style" was kinda cute to me. These guys are totally yummy, too - lots of orange flavor, and the bittersweet chocolate is just right for off-setting the sweetness of the macaroon. Yum! Oh, and easy. Did I mention the easy? They totally are. So give them a shot.

Ambrosia Macaroons

(from Bon Appetit magazine, December 2008)

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. finely grated orange peel
3 large eggs
24 oz. sweetened flaked coconut (about 6 c. firmly packed)
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325 F. Line 3 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and salt; beat until blended. Beat in orange peel, then eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in coconut. Drop batter onto sheets by tablespoonfuls, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake macaroons, 1 sheet at a time, until golden on bottom and browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.

Using fork, drizzle chocolate over macaroons. Chill on sheets until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.

13 December 2008

Blackberry Breakfast Bars

Mmmm. These are good. I could eat them for breakfast every day of my life.

I can see why these might be considered more of a "breakfast bar" than "dessert/coffee bar". There's the oats, for one, and these bars are pretty darn crunchy/crumbly (more like a granola bar). Plus, not as sugary as your usual after-dinner treat. But oh, they are tart and still a tad sweet and absolutely fantastic with your morning coffee/tea/giant glass of milk. And have that faint whiff of "healthy breakfast eats", so I am definitely sold :)

Blackberry Breakfast Bars
(adapted from SmittenKitten)

For the crust and crumb:
1 1/2 cu.all-purpose flour
1 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 c. rolled oats
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
For the blackberry filling:
1/4 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 lb. blackberries, fresh or frozen (thaw frozen in the fridge before using)
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Make the crust and crumb: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up the two short sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. Butter the parchment.

Put the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until combined. Add the butter and pulse until loose crumbs form.

Reserve 1 1/2 cup of the mixture and set aside. Pour the rest of the mixture into the prepared pan and use your hans or the back of a large wooden spoon to push the crust into an even layer at the bottom of the pan. The crust should touch the sides of the pan. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let the crust cool. Keep the oven on while you make the blackberry filling.

Make the blackberry filling: In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and flour together. Add the blackberries, lemon juice and butter and use your hands to toss gently until the blackberries are evenly coated.

Assemble and bake the bars: Spread the blackberry filling evenly on top of the cooled crust. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly on top of the filling.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, rotating the pan every 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling starts to bubble around the edges.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then cut into squares and serve. The bars can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days (she lies: mine were still yummy after 4 days. So there; just be sure to keep them refrigerated).

10 December 2008

Sugar Cookies

There is a photo somewhere floating around in a photo box in my house (and for the life of me I can't find it, or else I would have scanned it and included it here). It is a picture from an office holiday party, back in my college days. There is a lone subject in the picture, a sweet college-aged girl with her unruly curly hair in a loose ponytail, sitting in a recliner. She's wearing a festive sweater with reindeer on it, and there is a large Tupperware tub full of sugar cookies perched on her lap. She has a huge smile on her face, she's actually laughing to be honest, in fact her face is kinda red from laughing so hard. She's looking at someone off to the side, waving a pretty, perfect, frosted (and be-sprinkled) sugar cookie in her hand.

Now let me tell you the story behind that picture: this was my darling coworker, who had just spent 15 minutes in front of an audience of all our other coworkers, trying everything in her power to break one of the (Nemmie-made) super-Teflon sugar cookies.

Yes, to somehow get a piece or chunk or heck, even a crumb to fall off one of those cookies. You see, the cookies were sure pretty and kept their shape and decorated like a dream, but ah... Were not edible. At all. And this poor girl spent all night trying to get a piece off of just one cookie. My cookies that year, they were the talk of the party let me tell you. Not in a good way. I was totally a sucky baker in college.

Since that time, I have much matured (in many ways). Thankfully, I have also found a much better sugar cookie recipe. I have tried many, believe me: you know how a lot of recipes are either pretty when decorated but too hard/tasteless to enjoy eating? Or on the flip side: taste good, but the shapes spread while baking and you're stuck with 48 undecipherable blobs? Well, this is truly the best sugar cookie recipe I've ever used: they never spread. They taste yummy (it's the citrus, methinks). And they aren't rock hard, the biggest factor of all for me. Total win!

Sugar Cookies
(from Williams Sonoma)

1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. grated lemon zest (don't like zest? Try 2 tsp. vanilla paste)
1 large egg
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Royal icing for decorating

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a food processor, combine the butter, granulated sugar, and zest and pulse until creamy. Add the egg and pulse 5 or 6 times until fluffy and blended. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the food processor and process until blended, about 45 seconds. Add the remaining flour in two batches, processing after each addition until the dough is smooth.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface, shape into a ball, and then roll out 1/8-inch thick (you can also chill the dough for about half an hour if you'd like, it helps in rolling out the dough). Using cookie cutters, cut the dough into desired shapes. Then, using a spatula, transfer the cutouts to the baking sheets. Gather up the dough scraps, form into a ball, roll out and cut more shapes, and add to the baking sheets.

Bake until lightly browned on the bottom and pale golden on top, 6-8 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and allow to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to the racks alone to cool completely.

Decorate the cooled cookies with royal icing, chocolate ganache, sprinkles, etc. etc. etc.

08 December 2008

Toffee-Topped Fudge Brownie Tarts

Pictures are a bit craptastic, I know - sorry. I took them at 7am in the dusky light of my kitchen, while trying to desperately pack up treats and head out for Thanksgiving. Um, yeah, and this recipe is a few weeks old too. We need to get past that...

Anyhoo: every Thanksgiving I try to bring a treat or two. This year I tackled Luella's Date Pudding (which I won't post, sorry: Hub's relatives might come hunt me down for posting a beloved family recipe). I wanted to bring something else, although the pies were covered. Then I remembered I had bought a cookie magazine a few weeks ago (while waiting in line at the grocery store), and thought I might as well put it to good use. I flipped through and found a recipe with pretty photos that was fairly simple, and than away I went.

These little toffee bites seemed to go over pretty well - Hub's uncle even hid a few away in his cabinet for later. Proof positive that they were Pretty Darn Good. Nice and fudgey, for sure, with a ganache frosting and dotted with toffee. Mmm. While nowhere near as good as Date Pudding or Hub's aunt's cherry pie, it's still certainly a great recipe for those non-Thanksgiving days in your life :)

Toffee-Topped Fudge Brownie Tarts
(from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine: Christmas Cookies, 2008)

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/3 c. butter
1 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. whipping cream
1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate (chopped)
English toffee, chopped (I just used that pre-chopped Heath Bar topping stuff)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease twenty-four mini muffin cups and set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan, combine unsweetened chocolate and butter. Cook and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Beat lightly with a wooden spoon just until combined. Stir in flour. Spoon a generous 1 tablespoon of the batter in each prepared muffin cup.

Bake in a preheated oven for 12 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove brownies from muffin cups and place on wire rack; let cool.

For glaze: In a small saucepan, heat whipping cream over low heat just until it simmers; remove from heat. Add chocolate pieces, stirring until melted. Place chopping toffee in a shallow dish. Dip top of each brownie into glaze, then sprinkle with toffee bits. Return to wire rack and allow glaze to set. Makes 24 tarts.

To store: Place brownies in a single layer in an airtight container; cover. Store in a refrigerator for up to 3 days.

06 December 2008

Sweet Potato Ice Cream

I would like to start this off with the following disclaimer: I did not eat this. Even a slight whiff of sweet potatoes makes me want to fall over dead, sadly. Thankfully dear Hubs loves sweet potatoes, and was more than happy to be the guinea pig.

He would like for you to know that the texture was a bit 'chunkier' than regular custard-based ice creams (sing it brother, I could see that from eye-balling the stuff from 6 feet away). But, he really didn't think that was a bad thing. He also said it tasted very much like pumpkin pie, if you added sweet pecans and marshmallows. Or maybe more like candied yams. Or something.

At any rate: he's been dipping into the quart in the freezer all week, so I would guess it is in the "yummy" category. You'll have to give it a try and let me know what you think as well...

Sweet Potato Ice Cream
(Adapted from The Perfect Scoop, 2007)

1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced to 1-in. cubes
1 c. + 2 Tbsp. whole milk
2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Few drops of lemon juice
Wet pecans (recipe follows)
1/2 c. (or so) mini marshmallows

Place the sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes (until cubes are tender). Drain and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Pour the milk into a blender and add the brown sugar, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, vanilla, a pinch of salt, and squeeze of lemon juice. Puree until very smooth, at least 30 seconds. Press the mixture through a mesh strainer using a rubber spatula.

Chill the mixture thorougly in the refrigerator (overnight is best), then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to directions. In the last few minutes of churning, add the wet pecans and mini marshmallows.

Wet Pecans

2 c. pecans, roughly chopped
3/4 c. real maple syrup
Big pinch salt

Heat the syrup in a medium saucepan until it comes to a full boil. Stir in the nuts, and cook until the mixture comes to a full boil once again. Toss in a big pinch of salt. Cook while stirring for 10 seconds, then remove from the heat and cool completely. The nuts will be sticky (and wet) when cooled.

PS: See ya in 6 months, Robot.

04 December 2008

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Uh ohs! Almost forgot that today was a posting day... Well, let's see. I have some brownie bites to post, and ice cream, and soup... But I'm still on a cookie kick, at least for now, so that's what you're getting.

I picked up this recipe from Pea's site, yet again. I am like a stalker, no? But these were worth it. I love the little cinnamon roll shape! Plus, the kitchen will totally smell like (yeast-free) cinnamon rolls while baking. And they have the cinnamony, buttery taste down pat. Very glad to find this one floating out in the Interwebs. All I did was add a little zest into the mix, and they were pretty much like my favorite cinnamon roll recipe, just in cookie form :)

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
(from Pea)

½ c. sugar
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
Zest of 1 lemon, or 1/2 an orange
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. powdered sugar
¼ c. warm water
½ tsp. powdered egg whites

For the filling combine sugar and 2 TBSP cinnamon in a small bowl, set aside.

Whisk flour, baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, and salt together for the dough in a bowl; set aside.
Cream butter, zest, and brown sugar in a bowl with a mixer until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla; mix until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients, blending just to incorporate; do not over mix.

Trace a 16-x-9-inch rectangle on a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Pat the dough into the rectangle using your hands, then sprinkle half the cinnamon mixture over the dough.

Beginning on a long side and using the paper to help you, roll the dough into a log. Dust the outside of the log with the remaining cinnamon mixture (I forgot to do this). Wrap log in plastic and chill for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F; line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Slice chilled dough into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cookies cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack.

Combine icing ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle icing over cooled cookies, let stand at room temperature.

01 December 2008

Buttery Jam Cookies

Try-Outs for Christmas Cookies! The time is yet again here! And this one's a beaut...

First let me just say: I beat you, Tuesdays with Dorie people! Ha! TAKE THAT!! Everybody is gonna see my fabulous cookies before you can post them all over the blogosphere and back in a few weeks! SO. THERE.

Er, um. Here's some buttery jam cookies. They are tres delicious, at first sweet and buttery, and then you are whacked with chewy bits of tart jam. Mmmmmmm. While simple and not much to look at, I truly think these are my new favorite cookies. An added plus is that they are teeny, so you can stuff at least 3 or 4 of these suckers in your mouth before you start to feel guilty...

Buttery Jam Cookies
(from Dorie's Baking: From My Home To Yours, 2006)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 c. jam of choice (Dorie recommends apricot; I used cherry)
Confectioners sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place two racks in the oven, one in the upper third of the oven and one in the lower third of the oven. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar (on high speed) for 2 to 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat on high speed for an additional minute. Add the milk and the vanilla extract and beat on high speed for 30 seconds. Add the jam and beat on low speed for 1 minute.

Add the dry ingredients, with the mixer on low speed, just until they're mixed in. The dough will be extremely thick and stiff.
With a an ice cream scoop our a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of the dough onto baking sheets, forming cookies that are about 1 inch to 1-1/2 inches in size (I used a piping bag, with my largest tip).

Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, rotating the trays from top rack to bottom rack halfway through. Once baked, let the cookies sit on the pan for a minute or two and then remove to a wire rack and let cool completely. Dust with confectioner's sugar, if desired.