Croissants

IMG_1635

Croissants are probably one of my favorite foods.  I am really not a bread person.  I don’t really buy it and I don’t miss it.  I will make a cinnamon roll or the like, but I consider that to be a sweet.  I prefer a savory breakfast and eat eggs in some form every morning.  However, if I am having a rough time of it, a croissant is in order.  When I was working in NYC, every time I departed from the subway in the morning, I passed a bakery that had bagels, rolls, and fresh croissants.  It was so easy to dip in, get my warm, buttery, flaky croissant, and continue the route to work.  Also, my favorite place to eat in NYC is City Bakery.  They take the classic croissant and step up the game with a Pretzel Coissant.  They use a salt wash on the outside of the pretzel and it is a bit dryer (in a good way) than a classic croissant.  The croissant at Starbucks is not great, but not bad, and it will do in a pinch.  Also, it has less calories than most of the stuff in their pastry case.  So, croissants are a health food.

IMG_1636

I am currently in transition from one job to another and I have some extra free time.  It is just so much easier to devote your time to these lengthy project when you know you have limited distractions (like a job – hah).  I was inspired by Dominique Ansel’s Cronut recipe that has been recently published.  However, I thought if i were going to ever attempt making the cronut, I needed to make a classic croissant first, to understand the basics of a laminated dough.

I did some research and was pointed to the Cooks Illustrated method.  I read about other home baker’s errors and made a game plan to avoid them.  I loaded up on King Arthur All Purpose flour (not an ad), just recommended since it has a slightly higher gluten content than other all purpose flours.  I also loaded up on Plugra, a high fat content butter.  I scoped our house for a cool spot for the final rise.  I was concerned about this, being in the desert, but I found a closet that is nice and cool.  I watched the Cook’s Illustrated video about a million times and got to work.  The process was lengthy, but straightforward.  I was nervous at the end, just because so much work went into the pastries, but they turned out great.  When I was rolling them, I put some 60% chocolate into some of the croissants, and gruyere sticks and prosciutto in others.  I left more than half plain and wish I had filled more, but all were wonderful.  I found the process a lot less tedious than making a pie.  I think that says something about me, not sure what!

 

Coconut Chocolate Toffee Cowboy Cookies

Chocolate-Toffee-Coconut-Cowboy-Cookie

Cookies and Christmas.  It’s like football and dip.  Movies and popcorn.  Champagne and celebrations.  Good news for you, today is the reveal of the Great American Cookie Swap, so the internet is awash with fabulous cookie recipes to make your Christmas celebration complete.

The premise of the Great American Cookie Swap is pretty simple, donate a small amount to Cookies For Kids Cancer and receive the names of three lovely food bloggers (is that what I am?) to send a dozen cookies and receive 3 dozen cookies from three other food bloggers!  I received one dozen spicy oatmeal raisin cookies from Chris at Hye Thyme Cafe,  one dozen cornmeal and olive oil  biscotti from Cheryl at Crazy World of Cher, and Pfeffernussen from  Simply Sweet Justice.  YUM to all!

If you are compiling your “cookies to make” list, I encourage you to consider this Kicked Up Cowboy Cookie.  [Even though at this point in the season, the last thing you need is more ideas on what to make.  I’d take an elf to bake everything while I watch “Love Actually” on repeat.]  After eagerly waiting almost a year to participate in the Great American Cookie Swap, I obsessed over the perfect cookie to send.  I settled on this Kicked Up Cowboy Cookie because it can be a meal.  Oats, Coconut, Chocolate, and Toffee, what else do you need?!   These would be a perfect bake sale cookie too, there is nothing weird in there, just good stuff!

I made these the day before Thanksgiving (always wise to tear up the kitchen the day before a major meal) and basically had cookies for lunch.  Someone had to eat the ugly ones.  One relative had to evacuate the kitchen for fear of eating a full tray.  These are chewy and chocolatey, with enough salt to keep you coming back.  They come together quickly, all you need is some elbow grease to mix in all the ingredients.   These are barely adapted from Former First Lady Laura Bush’s recipe and they are award winning (in my opinion)!

Coconut Chocolate Toffee Cowboy Cookies

adapted from Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookie

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup toffee pieces

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups sweetened flake coconut

 Directions:

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl.

In large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.

Gradually beat in sugars; beat to combine, 2 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each.

Beat in vanilla extract.

Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Add chocolate chips, toffee pieces, oats, and coconut.  Refrigerate dough for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 


For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup dough onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until edges are lightly browned; rotate sheets halfway through. 

Remove cookies from rack to cool.

 

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread

Pumpkin-Cream-Cheese-Bread

Halloween and I are at a stalemate.  It is one of mom’s favorite holidays and we really got into it.  I had some pretty cool costumes and most memorable was when I dressed as the tooth fairy.  We always made our costumes from scratch and my mom passed her talents on to me so later, I would sew everything.  Some might find that more tedious, but I loved having control over the process, fit of the costume, and the overall look.  I made some pretty elaborate costumes in college, including Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and Eve (of the fated couple) with hand sewn leaves.  After college, I dabbled in costumes here and there, but with my old age, I have found myself at home (or at the gym!) on more than one Halloween, happy to be snuggled under a blanket and watching something non scary.

Just because I am not in a costume making phase of my life doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy other aspects of Halloween.  This year it took me a little longer to get into the pumpkin baking scene.  This is probably due to the fact that I am living in Arizona and it is still in the 80s here on most days!  However, the siren call of pumpkin finally lured me in and I made this lovely bread.  Let’s not kid ourselves, it is cake through and through.  The recipe I used called for 2 loaf pans but the batter is enough for 1 full 8×4 loaf and a little 4 inch round.  This cake is to die for.  The pumpkin bread is delightfully spicy and the orange favored creaminess of the cheesecake marbling complements it perfectly.  This bread reminds me of the Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes that are a big favorite too!

Pumpkin-Cream-Cheese-Bread-2

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread

adapted from allrecipes.com

Ingredients

8 oz cream cheese

1/2 c white sugar

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

1 egg

zest of 1 medium sized orange

1 2/3 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1/4 teaspoons nutmeg

1/8 teaspoons ground allspice

1 c pumpkin puree

1/2 c vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 1/2 c white sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter an 8×4 loaf pan and a 4 inch cake round.

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, 1/2 c sugar, 1 tbsp flour, 1 egg and orange zest; beat until smooth.  Set aside.

Sift together 1 2/3 cup flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and pumpkin pie spice; set aside.

Place pumpkin, vegetable oil, 2 eggs and 1 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl; beat well. Stir the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture just until combined.  Pour 1/2 of the pumpkin batter into the loaf pans. Spoon cream cheese mixture on top of this layer and then pour on the remaining batter.  Use a butter knife to swirl the pumpkin and cream cheese mixture.

Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool bread in pans for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Happy Halloween, ya’ll!

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

My Dad is from St. Louis, so needless to say, we were eagerly anticipating  the start of the World Series last night with the Cardinals versus the Red Sox.  We made yearly pilgrimages to visit family (drove from NC to MO) and always spent an evening at Busch Stadium.  In addition to having a space in my heart for the St. Louis team, having lived in NYC, it’s virtually impossible to find anything redeeming about a Boston team, so the allegiance is easy to maintain!

In these times of sporting trials, I tend to turn to food, namely a theme food.  I decided that I needed to make a Gooey Butter Cake, since they originated in St. Louis.  I have made the Paula Deen version with the cake mix and it is delicious (linking to the pumpkin version because it is fall and that is what I made).  Although the Paula Deen version is fast (and dirty), my internet research yielded another, more traditional recipe with yeasted dough.  I was just in luck because Deb at the Smitten Kitchen tried her hand at it.  Oh, this was going to be great.

IMG_1258

I started the process last night, just about when the starting pitch was thrown.  Obviously, the game was a massacre but perhaps because my fabulous Gooey Butter Cake had not been consumed by two fair weather fans in Tucson, AZ.  The cake was finished after the game was over, but we were the true winners.  Nate wants me to be clear that he thinks that this cake is one of the best desserts I have ever made and it made him do the happy dance.  If you are afraid of sweet (hi, Mom), this is probably not the dessert for you.  But, as a yeast-avoider (as in I avoid using it), don’t be scurrred.  You can do it.  Obviously, you need some time to make it all happen, but once that dough is rising, go make dinner or something while the dough does its thang.  I used high quality vanilla and I could really taste it, so that would be a strong recommendation.

Gooey Butter Cake

Also, I read to heed a warning on the type of pan used.  Because I live on the wild side and I have limited resources, I used a metal pan and set the time for 25 minutes.  My oven runs slow, so I needed about 7 more minutes in the oven and the topping was plenty gooey.  We like gooey, so I knew it would be fine.  When I took it out of the oven, it immediately began to sink and crust over on the top.  Science. The edges are key!  They taste like chewy, classy, custardy heaven.  Make this for someone who is suffering heartbreak, because they will forget.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

Cake:

3 tablespoons half and half at room temperature, or slightly warmer (around 110 degrees F)
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Gooey Butter Topping:

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

Butter, for greasing the pan

Directions

Cake:

In a small bowl, mix half and half with 2 tablespoons warm water. Add yeast and whisk gently until it dissolves. Mixture should foam slightly. I gave it 1 tablespoon of the sugar to feed it a bit.  Remember to subtract this from the total 3 tablespoons of sugar for the dough.

Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. I beat this dough with a dough hook on medium for about 10 minutes, until it started pulling from the sides of the bowl.

Press dough into a greased (with butter) 9-by 13-inch baking dish at least 2 inches deep. I used a metal 9×13 and it worked for me.  Cover dish with plastic wrap or clean tea towel, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Gooey butter topping:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk corn syrup with 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cake and use a spatula to gently spread it in an even layer. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until it has a golden top, but still gooey in the center.  Don’t worry if the cake immediately sinks when you take it out of the oven.  The magic is happening.   Try to stop yourself from cutting into it at that moment and allow the cake to cool in pan before cutting and sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar for serving.

Enjoy and GO Cardinals!

Mini Spicy Chocolate Cheesecake Bites / 2013 Oscar Night Menu

Mini Spicy Chocolate Cheesecake Bites

Since I have been married and living in a cold weather climate, my husband and I enjoy going to see the Oscar movie picks (or what appears to be).  We rarely go any other time during the year but that cold part of early January finds us sneaking off to the movies every chance we can get.  This year was no exception.  Of the movies we went to see, I have created a silly little menu for the Oscar viewing tonight.  If all else fails, make this salted dark chocolate popcorn and curl up to watch movie stars who haven’t eaten in a month.  Our short list of Oscar films:

  • Argo (an Old Fashioned, since the stress of the situation drove the hostages to drinking much brown liquor)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (a Philly cheesesteak in honor of the City of Brotherly Love: Paleo version or regular version [however cheese whiz is really disgusting to me])
  • Lincoln (in researching for last weeks President’s Day post, I read that Abe Lincoln was not a big eater but liked apples and bacon, so we shall have Roasted Brussels Spouts with Apples and Bacon).
  • Les Miserable (bread.  duh.  I made Her New Roots’ Life Changing Bread in anticipation! Yummy!)
  • Zero Dark Thirty (Mini Terrorist Cheesecakes: because they are evil and must be destroyed)  Recipe at the bottom.

Overall, I think Argo should receive the Best Picture Award.  The story is gripping and tight.  At no point in the film did I wonder how long it had been running or when it would be over.   The viewer is right there with the characters, wondering and praying that they will make it out alive!

Les Mis, had to fulfill a huge legandary story and fell just slightly short in some areas.  While an epic film, was definitely too long (they added a song?!).  The gritty, dark camera work and the sweeping camera shots of the French countryside and the opening scenes set the stage very well.  I loved Eddie Redmayne’s voice and Hugh Jackman had a stunning performance. Kudos to Anne Hathaway for showing us that she is crazy for her art, I wish I hadn’t seen her previewed part before the movie, since it is such a moving piece.  Overall, Bravo! Anne.  Out of the nominations for Best Supporting Actress, she deserves it.  However, Russell Crowe was on the lacking side, contributing to the overall disconnected film.

I saw Lincoln on Thanksgiving day so it has been a while since I saw the movie but it was fantastic.  Daniel Day Lewis does embody the president and the entire ensemble gave stellar performances.  It’s funny because with this movie and Argo, we know what will happen, yet the story is moving and gripping.  Sally Field is good but isn’t that to be expected?  She plays a lot of loopy, eccentric characters.  It will be interesting to see Daniel Day Lewis and Hugh Jackman go head to head tonight.

Silver Linings Playbook was such a joy and a surprise to see.  After I learned that David O. Russell was directing it and saw previews, I knew that I wanted to see it.  Speaking of excellent ensembles: they give Lincoln a run for its money.  For me, this was a close second to Argo.  It’s a lovely story, flawed characters with very imperfect lives, yet you still feel transported into their world.  And Bradley Cooper isn’t even that cute in it.

I was so on the fence about going to see Zero Dark Thirty, but we bit the bullet on MLK Day with every other couple in Hoboken.  I didn’t look at the screen during the famed water torture scene and other than that, nothing was too gruesome for my thin skin.  Jessica Chastain is an actor from out of this world.  The story is complicated and has a ton of detail, some of which was over my head.  I enjoyed it for what is represents and I am glad the movie was made.  It’s not the type of movie you are going to curl up to watch on a lazy Sunday but it is an important film and an important story about a great moment in history.  Thank you, Kathryn Bigelow.

Print Recipe

Spicy Chocolate Cheesecake Bites

Ingredients

  • 7 gingersnaps
  • 5 oreos
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp butter melted
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 oz melted chocolate
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/8 tsp, heaping chili powder
  • 2/3 c chocolate chips
  • 1/3 c whipping cream
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line 8 cupcake tins with cupcake liners and set aside.
  2. In a food processor, grind Oreo cookies and gingersnaps to crumbs. Pour in melted butter and blitz again until well mixed. Spoon about a tablespoon of cookie mixture into each cheesecake well. Press down. Set aside.
  3. With a hand mixer, whip cream cheese and melted chocolate together. Scrape sides and mix again until evenly mixed. Stir in egg. Scrape sides and mix again. With mixer on low, stir in sugar and spices. Scrape sides and whip again briefly so the filling is evenly mixed with no lumps. Spoon over top each crust.
  4. To bake, set tins in oven in roasting pans filled half-way with hot water; bake until set, about 34 minutes, rotating halfway through. When you shake the pan, they shouldn’t jiggle. Transfer tins to racks to cool completely. refrigerate in tins, uncovered, at least 4 hours; remove from tins.
  5. Melt chocolate chips with whipping cream and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Spread over completely cooled cheesecakes. Refrigerate until set.
  6. Refrigerate in airtight containers up to 5 days.

//