Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ethnic Flavor: A Shavuot Treat

For those of you not fortunate enough to be Chosen, Shavuot is the holiday celebrating blintzes, fruit baskets, picnics and cakes in the shape of the Ten Commandments- or so I always believed. Actually, it celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and we follow this awesome event to its logical conclusion and eat dairy products. Of course.

Which is basically Sarah's way of saying that she has no idea why the correlation between Shavuot and dairy exists, but in a culture as meat-obsessed at Judaism's, this can be a welcome relief. It is also a fine yearly excuse to consume the world's richest dessert, cheesecake!

Sarah has been experimenting with cheesecake a lot this year, including a lemon cheesecake for her friend Warren's birthday, a chocolate marbled cheesecake for Rebecca's Derekh Torah class, and little baby cheesecakes in ramekins. This was the greatest adventure yet, because it featured many interesting and different aspects, such as a sweet cookie crust (rather than graham cracker), raspberry jam (to which Rebecca added some fresh chopped raspberries), cottage cheese instead of some of the cream cheese (which made it a little bit lighter), and spices such as nutmeg (which Rebecca's husband was really obsessed with, to the point that he called it a "Nutmeg Raspberry Cheesecake," which is very far from the truth).

The recipe we used was Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte, from pg. 240 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours- a choice of cookbook which will shock loyal readers. Don't worry, we have some variety coming up.

The cheesecake was a not-so-light delight- it was still cheesecake, but it was not as dense and rich as a normal cheesecake. The main issue that we had was with the crust, which puffed up a lot in the oven due to our using a small amount of orzo in place of proper pie weights. (Ghetto cooking- it can happen anywhere.) It wasn't a big deal but it made the cake hard to cut because the crust ended up being very thick. The jam added a very nice, subtle compliment, and though it looked like it had seeped into the crust before we baked the cheesecake, you couldn't taste it afterwards. The batter is very runny, so don't be worried if it seems more liquid than usual. The finished product also wasn't as white as it looked in the book, because of the spices, but that did not detract from its taste at all! It was Torah-iffic! haw haw haw.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Great Modifications: The Chocolate Chip-Peanut Butter Cup Cookie

Let us now sing praises of the chocolate chip cookie. It is so simple, yet so rich in taste and memory. It comes in a million different recipes, each unique, yet each producing a fairly similar result. But what if you, like the Baking Sisters, were looking for something a little different, a little more exciting....

We came across a container of tiny milk chocolate peanut butter cups while on a trip to Trader Joe's of New Jersey and we couldn't resist. Behold, the delicious love child of chocolate chip cookies and peanut buttery goodness:

Of course, the great thing about chocolate chip cookies is that you can really put anything in them: peanut butter cups, white chocolate chunks, M and Ms, or, if you're really nuts, nuts. (This is not just cutesy wordplay — we never put nuts in our cookies or brownies, and we believe you'd have to be nuts to do so.)

Our recipe was adapted from the great Dorie Greenspan, and the cookies were delectable (although just eating the dough might have been even better). However, we are having a lot of trouble with our mixer
; after an heroic effort, we eventually got Rebecca's husband to unstick the bowl (yay feminism!) but soon he will be gone and Sarah will have to struggle on her own. If any of you bakers out there have ever had to unstick a KitchenAid stand mixer bowl and have suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated. And now, le recipe:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

3/4 tsp baking soda

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup mini-milk chocolate peanut cups or regular-sized peanut butter cups, chopped into small pieces (You may want to refrigerate them before using so that they don't melt and stick together)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer at medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes or so, until well-blended. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients. (You can add them in portions, because otherwise your flour might spray everywhere.) Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate and peanut butter cups — be careful, since the peanut butter cups are fragile.

Because of the peanut butter cups, these cookies spread a lot more than normal chocolate chip cookies, so you might want to chill the dough before baking. Spoon the dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between spoonfuls. Bake the cookies- one sheet at a time and rotating the sheet at the midway point- for 10-12 minutes, or until they are brown at the edges and golden in the center; they may still be a little soft in the middle, and that's just fine. Pull the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute, then carefully, using a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the remainder of the dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Brownies and Cookies and Baking, Oh My!

Everybody loves brownies. Everybody also loves cookies. And sometimes, it's just too hard to choose. Luckily, the immortal Dorie Greenspan has saved us from deprivation and decision-making by creating Chipster-Topped Brownies.

Sarah baked the delightful duo with some old friends from Hebrew high school. Hebrew high school forms lifelong bonds of friendship and a love of Jewish learning/eating artery-clogging crap. If you would like to know the nutritional value of our Chipster-Topped Brownies (you don't), all you have to do is observe the photo below (credit to my friend Alex):

Notice the additional butter lurking innocently in the corner. But enough of that.

Now, anyone who has ever baked a lot in college knows that dorm baking is all about improvisation — or, if you prefer, "ghettoness." This is the only way that the Baking Sisters are every going to get ghetto street cred, so we will go with it. In any case, this particular baking session took place in a dorm, which lacked a mixer and any measurement instruments smaller than one cup, yet we persevered. This became problematic when it came to beating the butter, because the butter is supposed to be beaten until it is smooth and creamy and instead we sort of just mashed it with our hands until it submitted. I wonder if this caused a dearth of volume in our cookie batter, because when I've made these in the past the cookie layer has fully covered the brownie layer, and there was not enough to do that this time. (It may also have been that, in true ghetto fashion, we were not equipped with a rubber spatula to spread the batter.)

Luckily, despite all these hardships, the CTBs came out deliciously. These are VERY rich, so be sure to cut them into very small pieces!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Our Go-To Parve Chocolate Cake

In addition to our love of baking, the Baking Sisters also keep Kosher. Since meat products and dairy products cannot be mixed in the same meal, this means that it is sometimes necessary to bake a dessert with no dairy in it (also known as parve). This means no butter, milk, cream or chocolate made with milk. For some, this might seem a travesty of baking. For the baking sisters, it is a challenge!

This cake is the go-to parve chocolate cake in our family. It is moist, has good chocolate flavor and is easy, thanks to the fact that it is based in a cake mix. It is almost impossible to screw it up! The cake comes from page 389 of The Cake Mix Doctor. Normally, we would not be ones to use cake mix (we like to bake from scratch), but when you are running out of time on a Friday afternoon before Shabbat, sometimes it is just easier to dump it in a bowl and go, without worry about whether or not the cake will turn out. Besides, there is no shame in using cake mix when it produces such a yummy recipe.

The frosting is different than the one recommended in the book. We made a parve chocolate cream cheese frosting. It is delicious -- just the right amount of tang. You can find the recipe below.

This cake can either be served at room temperature, or right out of the fridge, where it takes on a deeper, fudgier, flavor.

Dark Chocolate Chiffon Cake

5 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 (18 1/4 ounce) package plain devil's food cake mix

3 large egg yolks

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup vegetable oil (any kind)

1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and set aside an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.

2. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a medium mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes.

3. Place the cake mix, egg yolks, water, oil, coffee powder, and vanilla in a mixing bowl and blend on low for 1 minute. Stop the machine to scrap down the sides with a rubber spatula then increase mixing speed to medium and beat for 2 more minutes, continuing to scrap the sides of the bowl as needed. Turn the beaten egg whites on top of the batter and with a rubber spatula fold the whites in to the batter until the mixture is combined but still light. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing out the top and place the pan in the oven.

4. Bake the cake until it springs back when pressed with your finger and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and without batter, about 48 to 52 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately turn it upside down over the neck of a glass bottle. Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a serving platter so it is right side up.

Parve Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8oz container Tofutti cream cheese
1 stick margarine
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (use really good stuff, because that is the main flavor)
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups confectioners sugar

Use the whisk attachment to mix the cream cheese and the margarine until they are light and fluffy. Add the other ingredients and mix until you achieve the desired texture. If you like your frosting less sweet, just reduce the sugar a bit.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Coffee + Chocolate = Yummy

Hello, and welcome to our blog! For our first posting, we decided to report on an already-made goodie (because we knew you couldn’t wait to receive our pearls of baking wisdom). These are Espresso Chocolate Shortbread Cookies, from page 125 of Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (a book you should get if you don't have it already) — our favorite cookbook. They were very delicious, like everything from that book. Yesterday, Rebecca graduated from rabbinical school, and we ate them in joyous celebration, along with molasses cookies and chocolate cream pie, also from Dorie Greenspan. (You will be hearing more about those at a later date, I assure you.) Some notes:
  1. We discovered that chocolate chunks are far superior to chocolate chips. Dorie Greenspan told us so but we didn’t listen until now. We used Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate, which Rebecca patiently shredded until it bowed to the awesome dominance of the Cutco knives.
  2. Try to make the dough as square as possible when you roll it out. However, if you can’t, then never fear — you can always eat the little extraneous bits yourself.
  3. The trick is to have the shortbread be really cold so that it doesn’t spread in the oven. That is why you have to keep in the fridge or the freezer until the last possible minute. If the dough softens, you can put it back in the fridge for a little bit before they bake.
  4. The coffee taste is definitely present but not overwhelming. I don’t think it kept anyone awake.

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