Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What's Black and White and Sweet All Over? Zebra Cookies!

Yes, I have been an absent delinquent. Many apologies. Unfortunately, crazy summer school and many jobs left me no time for baking in June, but now it's almost July and I'm back! For my grand reappearance, I chose to make the zebra cookies from Kosher By Design Short on Time. These cookies are really easy to make, and I also love how they look. However, they're a little too chocolately for me, so I don't know if I would make them again.

A couple of things. First, the recipe calls for them being made huge-- it says to roll them out bigger than golf balls. I made them considerably smaller and they still grew a lot in the oven. Also, you have to coat the cookies very heavily in the confectioners sugar, otherwise they absorb the sugar while they cook. Enjoy!


1/2 cup canola OR vegetable oil

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup good-quality Dutch process cocoa powder (such as Droste brand)

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons baking powder

Powdered sugar

Line 2 large cookie sheets or jelly-roll pans with parchment paper. Set aside. In bowl of an electric stand mixer, mix oil, granulated sugar, flour, cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla and baking powder, until a soft dough forms. Roll dough into 18 balls slightly larger than golf balls.

Fill a small bowl with powdered sugar and stir with a fork to break up any clumps. Place balls, one at a time, in bowl of powdered and toss to coat heavily and completely. Transfer to prepared pans. Leave room between dough balls, as the cookies spread during baking.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 18 minutes. If you like, you can make smaller cookies; form walnut-sized balls and bake 12 minutes. Cool completely.

Makes 18 large cookies

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Elegance in Miniature

Hey there readers, long time no blog. I'm currently in London doing research for my thesis, and thanks to the wonders of the pound-dollar exchange rate I can barely afford meals, let alone dessert ingredients. But after some passive-aggressive (okay, mostly just aggressive) prodding from Rebecca, I recalled that there were a lot of things I made way back in the day before I left for England that never saw the light of the blog.

I spent the last weekend in Paris - it's a hard life - visiting my friend Evan, and though we walked far and wide searching for good patisseries, they were all closed because it was Sunday! So sad. We ended up getting delicious ice cream instead, so all was not lost. But I thought in honor of our pastry fail, I'd blog about a very Parisian-type dessert, which I made for my dad's office party back in December.

I've already written a bit about miniature tartes noir before, since Dorie Greenspan made them for the workshop at Dalton, and I've made regular-sized tarte noir many times, because it's as effortless as it is elegant. However, let me warn you that the minis, which are extremely cute, are not exactly effortless. This was mostly because I had a lot of trouble with the crust. I greased the pans very well but a lot of the crusts crumbled when I tried to take them out. Also, they puffed up in the oven, which normally isn't a big issue - you can just tamp it down with the back of a spoon - but because they're so small and delicate a little puffiness goes a long way towards diminishing the amount of space for ganache, and pushing on them too vigorously will break them. I tried to use pie weights for the second batch, a couple in each crust - BIG mistake, each one of them broke. If anyone had any suggestions as to how to get the crusts to cooperate, it would be greatly appreciated!

For the remaining non-maimed shells, the rest of the process was as simple and satisfying as ever, and the end result was delicious! (They were even better than usual; since it was for my dad's office party and not just some random whim, I was able to use Valhrona chocolate, yummmm!) They looked adorable and, according to my dad, they were a big hit at the party. However, I think that next time I'll make them in slightly bigger molds. It was just a little too time-consuming for me, especially considering that the charm of tarte noir is that it looks so professional and yet is so easy to make.

Tarte Noir, from Baking From My Home to Yours

Sweet Tart Dough

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in – you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough , which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

TO PRESS THE DOUGH INTO THE PAN: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

TO FULLY BAKE THE CRUST: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown – just make sure to keep a close eye on the crust’s progress – it can go from golden to way too dark in a flash.) Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

TO PATCH, IF NECESSARY: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice off a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. Bake for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

For the Filling:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • ½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
  • 1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (From Baking: From My Home to Yours – recipe above)

Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and have a whisk or a rubber spatula at hand.

Bring the cream to a boil, then pour half of it over the chocolate and let it sit for 30 seconds. Working with the whisk or spatula, very gently stir the chocolate and cream together in small circles, starting at the center of the bowl and working your way out in concentric circles. Pour in the remainder of the cream and blend it into the chocolate, using the same circular motion. When the ganache is smooth and shiny, stir in the butter piece by piece. Don’t stir the ganache any more than you must to blend the ingredients – the less you work it, the darker, smoother and shinier it will be. (The ganache can be used now, refrigerated or even frozen for later.)

Pour the ganache into the crust and, holding the pan with both hands, gently turn the pan from side to side to even the ganache. Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes to set the ganache, then remove the tart from the fridge and keep it at room temperature until serving time. (Note – don’t cut right into it because the ganache won’t be set yet).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cleaning Out My Pantry: The Chewy

You might be wondering -- where are the sisters?  This is the baking sisters blog after all, so more than one of us should be blogging.  All I can say is, I know, right?  Yooo hooo Rachel and Sarah.  Blog, blog, blog.

Anyway, I am getting ready to move to LA, which I am very excited about.  One of the things that comes with moving is cleaning out the pantry and fridge.  My previous post, about blueberry coffee cake, was one attempt to do that.  This is another.  I had about a quarter of a bag of bread flour.  I didn't want to make any bread produces because we still had 9 bagels from our trip to New York, as well as 2 loaves of whole wheat bread in the freezer, so bread did not seem like a practical baking activity.  

I had seen this Alton Brown cookie on a number of blogs and it had gotten good reviews, so I decided to go for it.  You see, it is made with bread flour, which would help me.  Instead of chocolate chips, I used by Jaques Torres chocolate disks.  I think this might have been a mistake.  The ratio of chocolate to cookie was off.  You know that I love, love chocolate, but I also love the cookie part and these felt like there was too much chocolate for the cookies.  However, the cookie dough was very tasty and I would try these again with chips.  I brought them to the last day of my adult education class and they got very good reviews, and the ratio of chocolate to cookie has not stopped me from eating them.  They are good, just not perfect.  I also thought they could have benefitted from a little salt on top, but really, what can't?

On a side note, this recipe suggests chilling the dough before scooping.  For all of you baking mavens, who I know are out there, what is the right amount of chilling to make the dough cold enough but not too hard?  After a couple of hours in the fridge, this dough was so hard I could barely scoop it.  Help!

You can find the recipe after the jump.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blueberries for Dad

If any of you remember last father's day, you remember that our dad is awesome.  The best dad in the world.  You may also remember that our dad is very hard to buy father's day cards for because he does not mow the lawn (as we don't have a lawn), play golf, drink beer or watch TV.  However, he does love blueberries, so it is always easy to make him something delicious for father's day.  This post is in honor of my awesome dad.  Sorry I can't be with you, but if I was, this is what I would make.  A shout out also goes to my awesome husband, who is a terrific dad and who also likes blueberries (but not as much as our son, who has been known to eat a whole pint in one sitting.  I guess he takes after grandpa).

In addition to this cake being delicious and appropriate for father's day, it also helps me in my ongoing quest to empty my fridge, freezer and pantry before the big move to LA.  We became the owners of a GIANT box of blueberries when our friends went to New York for 2 months, so I needed to find something to do with them.  Of course, I turned to Dorie and she did not disappoint.  This recipe also used up some buttermilk, brown sugar and pecans that I had around (her recipe calls for walnuts but I used what I had).  I also didn't have nutmeg or a lemon to zest, so I just left it out.  It turned out great without those things.  Look for more recipes from cleaning out my pantry in the next few days.

I urge you to make this cake.  It is delicious and easy.  The hardest part is waiting 1 hour for it to cook.  Make this for the blueberry loving dad in your life -- or raspberry or blackberry or any other kind of fruit (except strawberries -- Dorie says they are too watery) and wish all the dad's you know a Happy Father's Day!

The recipe is after the jump

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

MSC: Strawberry Cupcakes and I'm In!

I know you have all been waiting a long time for this day -- I am in the Martha Stewart Cupcake Club!  Check it out!  This week, Sherry of Sherry Starts Cooking chose Strawberry Cupcakes from pages 146-147 of the book.  Last month, I said I thought the cupcakes were getting better and better and these cupcakes continued the trend.  These were delicious.  I brought them to my son's second birthday party and they got rave reviews, which was very nice.  I also got to try one and thought it was delicious, even after sitting out in the 110 degree heat (a record) and then being refrigerated again.  I bet they would be even better fresh.

These cupcakes were pretty easy to put together.  I halved the recipe, which meant using 1.5 eggs and .5 egg whites, but that was not too difficult.  The best part about them was that you fold fresh strawberries into the batter right before you bake them and it gives you a special surprise when you bite into them.

Martha's recipe calls for strawberry swiss meringue buttercream which, in the introduction to the cupcakes she says calls for jam and in the actual recipe calls for fresh strawberries.  I decided to go for the fresh strawberries, but I didn't feel like putting them in the blender because I didn't feel like washing dishes, so I decided to chop them and fold them in.  

However, the fates were against me because our AC had broken that afternoon and it was over 100 degrees, even at night.  I made one recipe of the swiss meringue buttercream and it REALLY didn't work because it was so hot in the house.  I had to throw it out.  Trust me, it was disgusting.  So, I woke up very early the next morning when it was slightly cooler (like 85) and made Martha's fluffy vanilla frosting instead because I didn't feel like turning on the stove to cook the egg whites for the swiss meringue.  At the end, I dumped in some fresh chopped strawberries.  I was a little worried that the water in the strawberries would ruin the buttercream, but it worked out great and tasted delicious.

I highly, highly recommend these cupcakes.  They are delicious and are a great use of strawberries during the season.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bagels 3: I Think We've Got It!

This is our 100th post!  When Sarah and I started this blog, I don't know if either of us thought it would get this far.  I think it was something we were trying to do because we were in denial about how far apart we were going to be from one another.  Well, a little over a year later, another sister added and some guest blogging from our dad, we still have a blog.  Thanks so much to all our readers and commenters.  We would not have as much fun with this without you!

And now, for the 100th post -- Bagels!  This seems like an appropriate 100th post.  We are all Jewish New Yorkers, which basically means bagels are in our blood and they are a baked good that all of us like, no modifications necessary.  So, yay for bagels.

You may remember that I have posted about my quest for making the perfect bagel twice before.  Neither recipe was a total success -- one didn't taste enough like bagels and one took way too long to make.  However, I was not to be deterred, so I turned to the wonderful King Arthur Flour for their bagel recipe and this was the best one yet.  It doesn't take too long, but they taste like delicious bagels.  And best of all, unlike my other tries at bagels, these didn't turn out flat!  I have made this recipe 4 times now and they get better each time.  Recently I invested in a dough rising bucket and it has really helped my bread baking.  It is VERY dry here in west Texas, and the bucket helps it not dry out.

If you want to make bagels yourself, I highly recommend this recipe.  You can find it here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Very Elmo Birthday

I never thought I would be one of those moms who says things like, "My baby is growing up" and "it goes by so fast."  That was before my baby turned 2.  2 is old.  It is like an actual person, and not just a baby.  Being two, he now has many, MANY opinions.  When I asked him what kind of cake he would like for his birthday, he immediately said Elmo.  He has not stopped talking about the Elmo cake for months.  He is a huge fan of Elmo (mostly from books though) and could not wait for this cake.

I found this Elmo pan by Wilton, which had all the instructions for how to decorate it.  I had every intention of piping the fur and then...our AC broke and it was 110 degrees outside.  Try working with buttercream in that kind of heat and you will see that spreading it on and throwing it in the fridge is all you can hope to do.  When I put some in a piping bag, it melted from the heat of my hand. 

This is my first attempt at any major decoration and I am really happy with how it turned out.  When my son saw it, he got super excited and kept saying "Elmo cake, Elmo cake" over and over again.  That is success in my book.  Time really does go by fast. Two years ago, he was just born, one year ago he had never eaten cake before and now he has opinions on what kind of cake to have!  There, I said it.  I am one of those moms.    

One birthday party was obviously not enough (said with a hint of sarcasm).  He also had one with my parents and one at school, as well as one at synagogue. For the party at school, I baked cupcakes and tinted the frosting orange (per my child's request) and then I found sugar Elmos to put on top.  The kids really enjoyed them and I think they look pretty cute.

For the cake, I made one recipe of the cake from Dorie's Black and White Chocolate Cake.  I baked it for 40 minutes, since the pan was deeper than just a layer cake pan and it came out really great.  You can find the recipe here.

For the cupcakes, I used Martha Stewart's One Bowl Chocolate cupcakes.  They were good, but a little tough.  I think it is because I doubled the recipe.  Luckily, 2 year olds don't care.  You can find the recipe here.

For the buttercream, I used Martha Stewart's fluffy vanilla frosting.  Yummy.  I did cut down the sugar a little bit so it would not be too sweet.  The recipe is here.  I tinted it with my awesome gel food coloring from King Arthur Flour.  That stuff is amazing.  You don't need much and you get great color.

I also made strawberry cupcakes, which I will post about on the 15th as part of the Martha Stewart Cupcake Club.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sad Day? Happy Brownies!

It's been one of those days. As in one of those Worst Days Ever. I knew it wouldn't be a fun weekend because I'm cramming for my exams, which are tomorrow and Tuesday, but today was particularly bad. It all came to a head at around 1:30. My wireless connection is laughable, except that today I wasn't laughing, because I really needed it to be working so I could access JStor, and apparently it was having one of its Worst Days Ever too. As of 1:30 it hadn't been working except in sporadic 30-second bursts for the last three hours. 1:30 was also the time when my downstairs neighbor, of whom I have never been a fan to say the least, decided it would be a great time to blast his music at full volume even though he has exams tomorrow along with everyone else in the house. I truly could not concentrate, even though I was reviewing one of my favorite topics, and I decided I needed to do something about it.


I decided to go with a simple, Dorie-tested recipe that I've made a million times before; plus, I added M&Ms just for the hell of it. They're not the greatest brownies I've ever tasted but they're easy and reliable and they were just what I needed on a day like today. As I've mentioned before, I'm a stress baker, and not because I become a stress eater as soon as the goods come out of the oven. For me, it's always been about the sheer mechanical repetitiveness of it. If you melt this much chocolate with this much butter, if you measure out this much baking soda and add it to this much flour, if you put it all together and apply this much heat, this miraculous alchemical process will occur and in the end you'll have something totally amazing and new. If you just follow the instructions mindlessly, you won't go wrong. It's the exact opposite of the breadth and unpredictability and adrenaline and mental exhaustion of an exam, and thus it's an antidote. I don't think I'll ever become a really unique, creative or ambitious baker, because for me the pleasure in baking is knowing what will happen at the end, no surprises. Maybe I'll make something totally decadent and crazy after exams are over but for now it's got to be a simple brownie recipe.

I wish I could end this with some pat statement like "Suddenly, as I put the brownie in my mouth, things didn't seem so bad." The truth is, the second half of the day was just as crappy as the first half. I went to the supermarket to buy some ingredients for a fish dinner and somehow forgot the fish, and so had to go back again in the rain. When I got back the door scraped across my ankle and sliced it open, and it's been turning Band-Aids (or as they call them here, plasters) red ever since. I'm incapable of getting my practice essays up to the length they should be within the allotted hour. Plus, the brownie pan was too big so I had cut its volume in half with a folded piece of aluminum foil, and I'm pretty sure I ended up eating some aluminum foil by accident. But I know now that if I need a break, there are brownies downstairs. And that's something.

Classic Brownies - adapted from Dorie Greenspan

5 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8” square pan with foil and either butter the foil or spray it with nonstick spray.

In a medium sized saucepan, over very low heat, combine the butter and chocolates. Stir until just melted and smooth, then remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla, and gently stir in the salt and flour just until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a tester just about comes clean. Be very careful not to overbake. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely, then use the foil to remove the brownies from the pan and cut into squares.

Yield – 16 brownies.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

For The Love of Chocolate and Cinnamon

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I (Rebecca) love the combination of chocolate and cinnamon.  It is one of my favorites, because I like the spicy kick that cinnamon gives the sweet chocolate.  That is why, when I saw this in Dorie's cookbook way back when, I knew I had to make it.  I have made this a few times and it is always a hit with me.  It is soft and delicious, with a good chocolate flavor that is complimented by the cinnamon.  I also like the little snap of chocolate that you get in the swirl.  I don't always get a great swirl, but even when it is not so great, it is still delicious.

This cake comes together very easily, as does the frosting.  It also freezes really well.  The last time I made this cake, I cut it, then froze it uncovered.  When it was hard, I wrapped it well and it meant that I could enjoy a piece whenever I wanted it.  It does not take very long to unfreeze and it tastes almost as good as when it is first made.  If you like chocolate and cinnamon, make this cake.  It is simple and good, and that is all you can ask for.  I think this cake would also work ok parve, but I've never tried it.  If you do, let me know!

The recipe is after the jump.
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