Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Creme Brulee (TWD)

I don't know of a single soul who doesn't swoon over creme brulee, do you? I was really happy that Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake selected this FABULOUS dessert for this week's Tuesdays With Dorie. To elaborate further, let me say that I was happy...my DH was really over-the-moon happy about this week's selection. You see, creme brulee is one of his all time favorite desserts, and he made sure that I didn't slack off this week.

For those of you who are debating the purchase of a kitchen torch, I would absolutely recommend it. I purchased this torch apparatus and canned butane at Surfas a couple years ago (cost of the torch attachment ~$20, butane ~$3). Honestly, I've never regretted this purchase, as I've definitely put this tool to good use. The torch attachment easily screws on the butane can, and this apparatus delivers a pretty powerful flame:

Anyways, I digress...back to the creme brulee. The literal translation of this is "burnt cream", and creme brulee is essentially a flavored custard topped with a hard caramel.

You can infuse a variety of flavors to the custard (vanilla, chocolate, coffee, chai ---just to name a few). Vanilla is my favorite flavor for this dessert. I prefer using vanilla beans in recipes that call for its flavor to come center stage, so I made one adjustment to the ingredients, omitting the vanilla extract and instead adding the beans and scraped pods of two vanilla beans to the heated cream. I covered the pot and let the cream and vanilla steep for 1 hour before continuing with the recipe.

Dorie Greenspan's technique is a bit different that what I'm used to doing in the following ways:

- baking at a low temperature (200F) for a longer time period (~ 1 hour). I bake at a temperature of 300F and a baking period of 20-25 minutes.
- no water bath --- you place the ramekins straight on a baking sheet. I typically use a water bath or place a well soaked towel underneath the ramekins before they go in the oven.

I was definitely interested in trying Dorie's technique, so I followed her approach. I found that this technique resulted with a really silky smooth and surprisingly light custard. I did find that my custards took longer to set (1 hr 15 min), but I used larger ramekins (only used 4 ramekins) which may be the explanation.

Overall, I was really pleased with the results! Although this requires a longer baking time, I'm definitely going to adopt this technique going forward...Thank you Dorie!!!

The perfect accompaniment to creme brulee - assorted berries (blackberries and raspberries pictured here):

My favorite part of eating creme brulee is the first spoonful --- cracking into the burnt sugar crust, giving way to a rich creamy custard:

The combination of crunchy and creamy is heavenly! Here, you can see the vanilla beans distributed throughout the custard:

What a gratifying recipe selection this week...Thank you Mari! If you'd like the recipe, you can find it at Mari's lovely site. To see how all my fellow TWD bakers fared check out the blogroll.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dimply Plum Cake (TWD)

Finally, we're breaking away from cookies this week! The Tuesdays With Dorie bakers worked on some really delicious cookie recipes for the past few weeks (the Granola Grabbers and Malted Whopper Cookies were terrific!), and I welcomed the break to do something different.

Michelle of Bake-en selected Dimply Plum Cake as this week's recipe. It was a really timely pick as we now have an opportunity use the last of the summer fruits before we head into autumn.

I've previously made this recipe using an 8x8 pan with wonderful results, so this time around I wanted to see how this cake would fare in a mini loaf pan, which had compartments for 8 minis (I reduced the oven to 325F and baked 20-25 minutes). This was a great opportunity to use another fruit, so I decided to make the original recipe as well as one of Dorie's suggested variations.

I made the base dough with any flavors/spices, divided the base dough in half and then added the appropriate spices/flavors. I ended up making the following variations:

- plums, lemon and cardamom
- peaches, lemon and basil (continue to scroll down to see pics)

Instead of using plum halves, I sliced the plums into quarters and laid down three pieces of fruit per mini-loaf. I guess this loaf took the description dimply pretty seriously:

The minis turned out just as wonderfully as a whole cake. I actually think that they held up better as time passed. This cake kinda turns to mush after a couple of days...the mini loafs held up for 4 days.

The fruit turns "jammy" and the flavors intensify after baking in the oven:

I love this cake, as the fruit on top tells you exactly what you're eating:
The peach version was an unexpected and delicious surprise, as it calls for some chopped basil in the dough. The basil lent a sweet, herbaceous flavor that complemented wonderfully with the sweet peaches.
This is a wonderful breakfast treat, and it comes together in a snap. For the recipe, check out Michelle's site. To see what the other TWD bakers created, check out the blogroll.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My FAVORITE Chocolate Chip Cookie

I have experimented with countless recipes searching for that perfect chocolate chip cookie. The characteristics of the perfect cookie are a very personal matter, and here are my preferences:

texture: chewy w. medium thickness --- everyone has their preference, and this is mine!

chocolate to cookie ratio: 50/50 --- I really enjoy having a lot of chocolate in every bite

chips vs. chunks: chunks --- I like sizeable pieces of chocolate in my cookie.

type of chocolate: bittersweet --- I like using Valrhona 61% extra bitter

nuts or other add-ins: NONE!!

With the above criteria in mind, this recipe is the closest I've come to experiencing CCC perfection. It's the "not so secret" secret recipe from Jacque Torres, and I'm sure many of you have read about this or already tried this at home. I've been making this recipe countless times, and have found that the following tips make this cookie absolutely perfect:

- Don't substitute the pastry and bread flours w. AP flour. I really believe that the combination of the pastry and bread flours give the cookie a nice slightly crunchy exterior giving way to a really tender middle.

- Hand chopped chocolate chunks, NOT premade chips - I will purchase a hunk of the best bittersweet chocolate that I can afford and hand cut them into chunks. The easiest method to chop a block of chocolate: nuke the block at 50% power for a few seconds, no more. It softens the chocolate just enough. Then take a large kitchen knife and chop away! Your effort will be rewarded with really nice ribbons of melted chocolate throughout the cookie.

- Chill the cookie dough at least 24 hours (I let my dough sit anywhere from 2-3 days) before baking. This is not for taste reasons that were recently written about in an article from NY Times (god forbid we're aging cookie dough...let's leave that for wine and cheese). IMHO, refrigeration makes a difference with the look and texture. I think the dough sets in a way so when you bake the cookies, you end up with the lovely wrinkles and folds as the balls of dough spread and bake. Until I encounter another recipe that will move mountains, I think have finally found my perfect chocolate chip cookie!

I would love to hear about your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, so do share! :)

Jacques Torres' Secret Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
Makes twenty-six 5-inch cookies or 8 1/2 dozen 1 1/4-inch cookies

1 pound unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons pastry flour
3 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats; set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars.
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Reduce speed to low and add both flours, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, and chocolate; mix until well combined.
- Using a 4-ounce scoop for larger cookies or a 1-ounce scoop for smaller cookies, scoop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
- Bake until lightly browned, but still soft, about 20 minutes for larger cookies and about 15 minutes for smaller cookies.
- Cool slightly on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chocolate Chunkers (TWD)

The cookie onslaught continues! This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Chocolate Chunksters, was selected by Claudia of Fool For Food. With the recipe calling for 19 oz of a wide array of chocolate (bittersweet, unsweetened, semi-sweet, milk, white), this is definitely a chocolate cookie on steroids!

Rounding out the ingredient list were some chopped nuts and raisins. I went with salted peanuts and instead of raisins, I went with a medley of dried cherries, blueberries and strawberries from Trader Joe's:This berry medley is really delicious and a staple in my pantry! I've mixed them into greek yogurt or oatmeal, used them as a salad topping, or eaten them right out of the bag. This is the first time that I actually used these dried berries in a recipe.
As I combined the ingredients, it was apparent to me that this was a bowl of chocolate, dried fruit and nuts with barely enough brownie-like dough to bind the ingredients together. The just mixed dough was a little moist and sticky, so I thought a little refrigeration would help it. Instead, I ended up with petrified cookie dough:
Okay, the dough didn't look too appetizing, but I assumed that these would look really delicious after they baked off. Well, I assumed incorrectly:

Okay, okay...these look a little homely. It's the taste that matters, right? These cookies went with my DH to his work, and I was told that these were snatched up in a split second by his co-workers. He said that the cookies received rave reviews and he also agreed that they were intensely chocolatey and delicious.

My thoughts? To me, this was a case of "too much of a good thing". I love the taste of the add-ins individually, but when combined into one cookie, it was a little overwhelming. Oh well, to each their own!

You can find this recipe at Claudia's site. To check out the creative variations of this cookie concocted by the Tuesday's With Dorie bakers, check out the blogroll.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chocolate Malted Whopper Cookies (TWD)

I have total weakness for anything malted --- chocolate/vanilla malted shakes, whoppers, malted milk ice cream (thank you David Lebovitz for the recipe in The Perfect Scoop)... and these cookies! When I first purchased Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours, this recipe for Chocolate Malted Whopper Cookies was the first that I tried, and I've been baking them countless times since. I realize that I've never written a post on them (probably because they were quickly eaten before I could take pictures). Thanks to Rachel of Confessions of a Tangerine Tart, I now have an opportunity to write a post on these delicious cookies.

I have played with this recipe quite a bit, making them without the malted milk balls, substituting white chocolate for the bittersweet, adding chopped walnuts, not adding anything to the dough and using the plain cookies for ice cream sandwiches, etc. I would have to say that you can't go wrong with any of the variations, as the basic cookie dough (which has a healthy amount of malted milk and cocoa powder) has a terrific chocolatey malt flavor and a nice soft, cakey texture.
I was debating on what to do with recipe this time around, and lo and behold, look at what I encountered during my grocery run at Trader Joes:
Now, as many of you know, I'm not too crazy about peanut butter. Still, this just seemed too good to pass up! Why not substitute the whoppers with these treats. As you can see, it's essentially a malted milk ball with a layer of peanut butter and a layer of rich milk chocolate:
I used Carnation Malted Milk Powder, Callaebut cocoa powder, and coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (personally I wouldn't use a sweeter chocolate, as the cookie could get over the top sweet...unless you're into that). I cut the malt balls into halves (I didn't go any smaller, as they will disentigrate into the dough when baking). I like being able to distinguish what is added to the cookies, and you see the chocolate chunks and the melted malt balls in the cookie:
So, what did I think of the peanut butter malt balls? The PB flavor was subtle, and it added a nice slightly salty contrast to the malt and chocolate. I think that PB lovers would enjoy this, but personally, I'll stick to plain 'ole malt balls. These cookies are wonderful both warm just out of the oven (love the gooey melted malt balls) and at room temperature. Either way, they are delicious dunked in a glass of cold milk or served with ice cream.

If you want to make these cookies (I know you do :) ), you can find the recipe at Rachel's site. Better yet, for this recipe and many other wonderful recipes for homebaked treats, go get yourself a copy of Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, Baking: From My Home To Yours...I promise you won't regret it.

To see how the TWD bakers did with their cookies, check out the Tuesday's With Dorie blogroll.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters (TWD)

Is it really Labor Day already? Where has my summer gone... in the kitchen perhaps? Anyways, as my weekend is jam packed, this post is going to be brief. This week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection, Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters (is that a mouthful or what), comes to us courtesy of Stefany of Proceed With Caution.

(BTW, these cookies were sent to a special group of people, which I wrote about here.)
I definitely second Dorie's recommendation for chilling the dough overnight. Freshly mixed, the dough was sticky and a little difficult to handle. Chilled overnight, the dough had a nice consistency to create uniformly shaped drop cookies.

Fresh from the oven, these cookies retained a nice chunky look.

I had one cookie (not a big PB dessert fan), and...

my DH enjoyed a stack of them!

The oatmeal provided a nice bite and texture, and the cookie imparted a balanced amount of peanut and chocolate flavors. I'm not sure if I will repeat this recipe (the Granola Grabbers was much more to my liking). Still, if you're a PB and chocolate fan, this cookie should satisfy your craving.

For the recipe, visit Stefany's site. To see how my fellow 250+ bakers did, visit the TWD blogroll.
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