Thursday, December 22, 2011

A quintessential holiday treat: Peppermint Bark Cookies

Have you ever seen a cookie look more holiday?
It's like instant merry and bright.

And the cookies themselves are delicious.  I know that there is a lot of peppermint bark running around out there right now, but it often is so sweet and over the top that I steer clear.  But, not to worry with these!

The peppermint bark itself isn't very sweet, especially if you use excellent dark chocolate.  And whatever sweetness there is is cut by the shortbread cookie bottom.  Just delightful!

They are also a ball to make: sure to put you in a jolly frame of mind.

You start by  making a shortbread bottom.  Don't worry if you don't have a 13x9 metal pan, I just did it on a normal jelly roll pan and shaped it to round about 13x9.  You can cut the edges if they burn.  Then, right after the shortbread is done baking, you sprinkle dark chocolate over it.

Let that melt and spread it.

Then sprinkle candy cane bits all over it.

Then drizzle it with white chocolate.

Just look at it!

Chill it a bit, then cut.


And with these, the Bicoastal Chefs wish you a happy holiday, to you and yours!

Peppermint Bark Cookies (from epicurious)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red-and-white striped hard peppermint candies, chopped (about 3 ounces)
2 ounces high-quality white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray 13x9x2 metal baking pan with nonstick spray.*  Line bottom of pan with 9-inch wide parchment paper, leaving overhang on both short sides of pan.

Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl.  Using electric  mixer, beat butter in large bowl until creamy, about 2 minutes.  Then beat in the sugar.  Continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 3 minutes.  Beat in vanilla, then egg yolk.  Gradually add flour beating on low speed just to blend.

Drop dough by tablespoons full onto prepare baking pan, spacing evenly.  Using moistened fingertips, press dough to form even layer over bottom of pan.  Pierce dough all over with a fork.

Bake cookie base until light golden brown and slightly puffed and edges come away from sides of pan, about 30 minutes [for me, it was more like 18-20].  Place pan on rack, immediately sprinkle with chocolate. Let stand until chocolate softens about 3 minutes.  Using small offset spatula, spread chocolate over top of cookie in thin even layer.  Immediately sprinkle peppermint candy over.  

Stir white chocolate in medium bowl set over saucepan of simmering water, stirring until smooth.  Remove from over water.  Using fork, drizzle white chocolate all over cookies.**  Chill until white chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Using paper overhand as aid, lift cookie from pan and transfer to work surface.  Using large knife, cut into irregular pieces.  

Can be made 1 week ahead.  Store in refrigerator, layering with waxed paper or parchment.

Makes: about 36

*I used a larger jelly roll pan and just shaped the dough to 13x9 on it.  Then, when the edges burnt a bit, I cut those off.
**Avoid globs of white chocolate, they are way to sweet. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sables, two ways: Almond Sables and Lemon Sables

(almond sables)
As far as I'm concerned, I will never find a cookie with a better texture than these sables.  They are ever so slightly crisp, but oh so tender.  And have this dynamite sandy feel around the outside.  I'm sold: sables win my cookie texture award.

(lemon sables)

Speaking of winning awards, these cookies also recently won a holiday cookie contest!  What sets them apart, on top of their texture, is their simplicity.  They are simply flavored butter cookies, which, in a season of sugary-over-the-top-ness, they are a breath of fresh air.

So, if you are in the midst of looking for a holiday cookie that will impress and please, these cookies are for you. Not to mention, you can make these cookies up to three days in advance, pop them in the frig, and slice and bake them at the last minute.  Yet another advantage of these sables!

These cookies only have a handful of ingredients, and are a cinch to put together.

Begin by beating the butter.  Unlike with other cookies, you don't want the butter to get light and fluffy, you want it to be creamy and velvety.

Next, if you are making the lemon sables, you begin by rubbing the zest of 1 1/2 lemons into granulated.

Then, add the granulated sugar, confectioner's sugar, and salt.
Next, add the egg yolks, one at a time.
After that, time to add the flour.  If you are making almond sables,

you will sub out part of the flour for fine ground almonds.
To prevent the flour from going everywhere, drape a kitchen towel over your mixing bowl, and pulse the flour into the dough at the beginning.

Eventually, all of the flour will get mixed in; however, the dough will stick to the sides of the bowl and won't form a coherent ball.  But, that's how it should be.

Here's the almond dough.
Spill the dough out onto a work surface and divide it half.  Next, and here is a crucial step, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and use the plastic wrap to help you make a log.  I tried this without the plastic wrap and it was a complete disaster.

Once this is done, refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.  When you are ready to baked them, take the logs out and slice them into 1/3 inch disks.
Bake for 17-20 minutes.  And let cool on racks.

The flavor really does develop over time, so wait until they are cool, if you can.  If not, enjoy one hot and wait to really judge them until they are cool.

And when you do, I think you will find them to be a winner!

Sables (from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
For lemon sables:
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
zest from 1 1/2 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp salt, preferably fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 cup all-purpose flour
Decorating sugar [optional]

Beat the butter, in a large bowl, at medium speed until smooth and very creamy.  Working in a small bowl, using your fingers, rub the grated zest of the lemon into the granulated sugar until the sugar is moist and very aromatic, then adds this and the confectioner's sugar and salt to the beaten butter.  Beat until well blended, about 1 minute.  The mixture should be smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the egg yolks, again beating until the mixture is homogeneous.

Turn off the mixer.  Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and the counter from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, 1-2 seconds each pulse.  Take a peek-- if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple more times; if not, remove the towel.  Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist.  (If most of the flour is incorporated but you've sitll got some in the bottom of the bowl, use a rubber spatula to work the rest of the flour in).  The dough will not clean the sides of the bowl, nor will it come together in a ball-- and it shouldn't.  You want to work the dough as little as possible.  What you're aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy, rather than smooth dough.  Pinch it, and it will feel a little like play-doh.

Scrape the dough out onto a smooth work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half.  Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long: it's easier to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log.  Wrap the logs well and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably longer.  The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Getting ready to bake:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Remove the log of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on a piece of parchment.  [Optional for decorating the outside] Whisk an egg yolk until smooth, and brush some of the yolk all over the sides-- this is the glue, then sprinkle the entire surface of teh log with decorating sugar.

Trim the ends of the roll if they're ragged, and slice the log into 1/3 inch thick cookies (You can make them as thick as 1/2 inch, but no thinner than 1/4 inch).  Place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them.

Bake one sheet at a time for 17-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the midway point.  When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top; they may feel tender when you touch the top gently, and that's fine.  Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest a minute or two before carefully lifting them onto a rack with a wide metal spatula to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining log of dough.

For Almond Sables:
The same as above, except omit the lemon zest and reduce the flour to 1 1/2 cups, and add 1/2 cup finely ground almonds (or pecans or hazlenuts or walnuts) to the mixture after you have added the sugars.  If you'd like, instead of sprinkling the logs with sugar, sprinkle them with finely chopped almonds or a mix of almonds and sugar.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perfectly Perfect Pumpkin Pancakes

I'm just going to go ahead and say that these are the best pancakes in the history of all time.  Of course they have pumpkin, which, in my book, gives them a leg up.  But, what is shocking, is that these are perfectly perfect pancakes.  This is pretty surprising since they involve pumpkin, and, at least in my experience, pumpkin can do funny things to baked goods.  But, these are the real pancake deal.   
Unlike many pancakes, these behave exactly as you want them to when you are cooking.  They never spread too thin or remain too thick.  Flipping them is a dream.  And, you wind up with a pancake that is light, fluffy, and perfect. 

I could, and I do, gobble them up.

Especially when they are topped with vanilla yogurt and some lightly toasted walnuts.

Fair warning, though, in order to get a perfectly perfect pancake, there is an extra step involved.  Rather than just incorporating the eggs straight-away, you whip up the eggs whites.  This is, I am quite sure, the key to their light and fluffy consistency.  This doesn't take long, nor does it require skill, but it is a bit of an extra (very worth it) step.

Start by whisking your dry ingredients together.

After separating your eggs, mix the pumpkin together with melted butter, milk, egg yolks, and vanilla.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
Whip up the egg whites.  Then, add in the egg whites, in three batches. 

Be sure to be nice when you fold in the egg whites so the bubbles in the whites don't totally deconstruct.  This may take longer than you think.

Next, cook them in your skillet. 
The flipping is so easy. 
Now... time to gobble them up!
Like I said, I am a fan of the yogurt-walnut combo, but I'm sure maple syrup won't disappoint.

Pumpkin Pancakes (adapted from epicurious)
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4-1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg (about 1/8 tsp)
1/2 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk the first 5 ingredients into a large bowl.  Whisk milk, pumpkin, egg yolks, melted butter and vanilla in a medium bowl.  Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients.  Whisk just until smooth (batter will be thick).  Using an electric mixer, beat eggs white in another medium bowl until stiff but not dry.  Fold whites into batter in 2-3 additions.  Brush large nonstick skilled with oil; heat over medium heat.  Working in batches, pour by 1/3 cup-fulls into skilled.  Cook until bubble form on surface of pancakes and bottoms are brown, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.  Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with oil between batches.*

*Keep the finished pancakes on a plate in a 200 degree oven, while you finish the rest of the batter.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Own Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

When I search for a recipe on google, which gets no exact hits, just those hits google thinks 'you might have meant instead', I get worried.  Maybe everyone in the 'know' knows it would be a terrible idea.  Maybe those flavors just don't mix.  Maybe I misspelled 'cake'.

But, it turns out, sometimes I have ideas.  Ideas people haven't written thousands of recipes for.  Ideas that actually come from me and my culinary self. 

Like: Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Now, I know what you are thinking: of course recipes for this exist out there.  Let my testify: you will find armloads of recipes for Chocolate-Raspberry Cake (like this one I did last year), or recipes for Raspberry Torte, or all the kind of cupcakes your heart could desire.  But, listen up google, while I love chocolate based cakes, I wanted something lighter, and while I love tortes, they aren't layer-y, celebration-y enough, and though I'm somewhat fond of cupcakes, they can never ever replace a cake.  What I really wanted was a layer cake, where the layers were raspberry cake and the frosting was dark chocolate.

So, I, much to my chagrin, had to come up with a recipe... of my own.  By which I mean, I pieced together and tweaked other recipes, but still, I felt pretty triumphant by the end.

For the cake layers, I took my cue from a three-layer strawberry cake (thank you, smittenkitchen).  But, it was a small crowd (and a small oven), so I slimmed it down to two layers, and swapped out the strawberries for the raspberries.

Before the steps, here's a tip.  If you don't happen to have 'cake flour', you can make your own.  Just mix 7/8 cup of regular flour and 1/8 cup cornstarch.  And instantly you have 1 cup of cake flour.

After you whisk together the dry ingredients, its time to put together some raspberry puree.  If you are smart (which I was not) you will use a 12 ounce bag of *defrosted* raspberries to get 1 cup of raspberry puree.  Do not attempt this with (a) frozen raspberries (you can't get them through a sieve)

or (b) 1 cup of frozen raspberries (you will never ever get 1 cup of sieved puree from that).

Unlike a lot of cakes, where you begin by creaming your butter and your sugar, for this one, you just throw the butter and raspberry puree in with the dry ingredients from the outset.

But, come on, how charming is the color of this batter?

I couldn't get over it.

Next, beat up some egg whites with milk.  Then, fold some of those eggs whites into the batter, to lighten it up.

Fold in the rest of the egg whites in 2 more additions.

Pour into two butter and parchment-ed cake pans.

Bake for about 30 minutes.

Let rest and turn out after 10-15 minutes.  Let cool for at least an hour, and then you can frost away.  Unlike last time I attempted to frost a cake (and did so with the elegance of a 5 year old),
this time, I surrounded the bottom of the plate with parchment, which I could then drip onto all I wanted, and remove when I was done.

It worked great.

Garnish with some raspberries.

And, this is important, while the cake will be...
...very good without extra, fresh raspberries...

...if you serve it with even more raspberries, it will be perfect.  Really, the extra bites of fresh raspberries brings out the somewhat subtle raspberry flavor in the cake itself.  So, they are a must.

 There you have it: my very own Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting.

Raspberry Layer Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache Frosting (adapted from smittenkitchen)
For the cake*:
3 cups cake flour**
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup pureed raspberries (passed through a sieve)***
5 extra large egg whites****
1/4 cup + 3 Tablespoons milk
Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter two 9-inch round cake pans.  Line with parchment and butter the paper.

But the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl.  Whisk together.  Add the butter and raspberry puree.  Mix to blend the ingredients.  Raise the speed to medium, beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites and milk.*****  Add the whites to the batter in three additions, scraping the sides of the bowl well and mixing only to incorporate after each addition.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for 30-34 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.  Allow the layers to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.  Invert and turn onto wire racks and peel off the paper.  Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least an hour.

For the dark chocolate ganache frosting (I've used this before)
8 ounces fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate1/2 cup heavy cream (aka heavy whipping cream)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Finely chop chocolate. In a small sauce pan, bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (30-40 minutes).

Frost the cake, garnishing with fresh raspberries.  Serve with more fresh raspberries.

*I did two layers for this cake, but if you want to do three, follow the smittenkitchen's measurements
**If you don't have cake flour, substitute 7/8 cup all-purpose flour and 1/8 cup cornstarch for 1 cup of cake flour
***I used 12 ounces of frozen raspberries, pureed them in a food processor, and then pressed them through a sieve to remove the seeds.
****Technically, it should be 5 1/3 egg whites, so I attempted to add 1/3 of an egg white, but you might be fine if you just did 5.
*****I'm not quite sure how much you are supposed to whisk the egg whites.  I'm sure soft peaks would be fine, but I just went for really very frothy.
******This makes some extra frosting