Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

Oh, Cook's Illustrated, you've done it again!

These really are amazing chocolate chip cookies. Big and chewy, with a TON of flavor. Toffee and chocolate and yum. And they only take a few more minutes than the usual Toll House cookies.

This is dangerous.

It's so simple, too -- just a little more brown sugar than the standard recipe, one fewer egg white, and - swoon - browned butter. It's the strangest thing -- as you stir the unmelted butter into the browned butter, you can smell toffee, even though there has been no sugar involved yet. It's wonderful.

I made two batches in as many days -- one for us, and one to send to a family friend who recently started treatment for breast cancer.

I think they'll cheer her up!

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Cook's Illustrated

1-3/4 cups (8-3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 Tbsp (1-3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (preferably dark brown)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips (Cook's Illustrated's preferred chip is Ghirardelli 60% cocoa, and I agree)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional - I did not include these)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18"x12") baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1-3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny.

4. During one of the rest times, whisk flour and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside.

5. After final rest, us a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough a final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

6. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 disher). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

7. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through cooking. Transfer sheet to wire rack; cool for as long as you can stand it before diving in.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes

I love having a special breakfast on Saturdays. That's what we did growing up -- Sunday mornings were too busy with getting ready for church, but Saturdays were special. When my brother and I were little, that was the day Mom got to sleep in, and Dad made breakfast for us -- usually pancakes. We loved it when Dad made pancakes, because he would make special shapes for us -- letters for our names, Mickey Mouse, that sort of thing. I'm sure they tasted good, too, but as long as they were unusual shapes, I'm honestly not sure we'd have noticed!

These pancakes won't make good letters, but they are really yummy. And they are quick and easy to make, as long as you remember to mix the oatmeal and buttermilk the night before! You can mix the dry ingredients the night before, too, but that's not critical.

My husband puts molasses on them, but molasses are not my thing -- I top them with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Just for kicks, this time I tried whipping the cream by hand instead of with a mixer. I wanted to see how long it would take and if it would practically make my arm fall off. I was pleasantly surprised -- it took maybe 5 minutes, and while I wouldn't want to whip large quantities daily, it wasn't hard. And I had a lot more control over how whipped it got than I do in the mixer. It somehow feels less "wasteful" for just a small amount of whipped cream, even though I still dirtied a bowl and a whisk.

Like most pancakes, these are hardly sweet. By themselves, they are on the plain side, even with the cinnamon and vanilla. But dressed with a little sweetness, they really shine!

Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes
adapted from Julia

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Combine oats and buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, add eggs and mix to combine. Mix in melted butter and then vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Combine dry and wet ingredients, making sure they are all incorporated.

Preheat a griddle or nonstick skillet (on my electric stove, medium heat is perfect, after the first batch). Spray with cooking spray or oil. Spoon batter on, about 1/4 cup for each pancake.

Here's the tricky part: you'll have to play with the heat a little to get these perfect. They don't really form the bubbles that most pancakes do to tell you when to flip them. And the first batch is always weird -- don't let that throw you! With a little trial-and-error, these will be perfect (and they're pretty good even when they're not perfect!).

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

I know that pumpkin bread is usually more of a fall thing, but I had a hankering for it now. Also, I'm going to be making a lot of it this fall -- more on that later -- and I wanted to do some final recipe tweaking before then.

For some reason, my mom didn't make quickbreads very often when I was growing up. I don't know why; she baked plenty of other things, but not very many muffins or quickbreads. So I'm not certain I had pumpkin bread at all until probably after college, when I got this recipe from my mother-in-law.

I'm so glad she introduced me to it, because I practically lived on the stuff after my son was born. We went through probably 6 loaves in the first month of his life, and I consumed most of it. I was up at all hours with this tiny person who didn't sleep very long, and nursing every 3 hours, and I was hungry ALL THE TIME. Pumpkin bread was appealing because it was yummy, easy to eat one-handed (with a wee baby boy in the other hand), and ready to eat at any time of day -- no cooking or thawing required. And it has pumpkin in it, right, so it's not totally bad for you...

So pumpkin bread is my go-to food for new moms, and I've got 3 babies due this fall! My boss, my best friend from college, and my sister-in-law (I'm going to be an aunt! Yaaay!) are all pregnant, and due within a 6-week period. I'm going to be baking a lot of pumpkin bread this fall, so it was time to finish tweaking. (Oh, and I guess it's time to ramp up the knitting as well!)

Over the years, I'd made a couple of adjustments to this recipe -- reducing the oil (by HALF! It called for a whole cup. Insane.), coating the pan with cinnamon-sugar -- but nothing major. However, when I was eating so much of it after my son's birth, I noticed that it had a metallic flavor. And that the spices really could use a little more oomph. Reducing the amount of baking soda got rid of the metallic flavor, and including allspice helped with the spices. But it was the addition of just a little vanilla that really made this bread a winner -- this batch is definitely the best yet, and I think I'm happy now to let this recipe stand.

Pumpkin Bread

3 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg (I always use freshly-grated nutmeg -- I don't want to be a snob about it, but it makes a big difference!)
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 15-oz can of pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2/3 cup water
Cinnamon-sugar (optional - 2-3 Tbsp)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease 2 loaf pans (or 2 muffin tins) and coat with cinnamon-sugar.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly (a whisk will be fine -- you don't need a mixer). There will still be a few lumps.

Divide batter between pans. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

Monday, May 4, 2009

My First Sock

I've been wanting to try sock-knitting for a while now, but a previous attempt failed and I needed to find the right way to learn. I thought about taking a class, but the cost always turned me off. Then, I found Silver's Sock Class. It's a totally free step-by-step tutorial, with pictures and everything. Perfect!

So this weekend, I cast on my first sock. I'm afraid that I don't remember what yarn this is -- I bought it a couple of years ago for that first ill-fated attempt, and the labels have gotten lost along the way.

It's lovely yarn, though. I'm excited to see how this sock develops!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

S'mores Brownies

So, after the s'mores cupcakes didn't taste so s'more-y, I was going to make another batch. But then I remembered this s'mores brownie recipe (well, I re-stumbled upon it - it was open in one of my many browser tabs), and decided to try that instead. I was on my way to trivia, and making dinner, and I just didn't have time to fuss with cupcakes and frosting. I was in such a hurry that I completely forgot to take pictures until after I got home from trivia, which is why the light is so bad in these photos (just go look at the pictures in the link up there, Joy's are much better than mine!). They were easy to make, and it's fun to crunch up the graham crackers and then put the big marshmallows on the batter.

Verdict: Well, they're brownies, so you know they're good. But I didn't get any s'more-y flavor from these, either, unfortunately. But they were still brownies, so all was not lost! These ended up very cakey (much cakier than Joy's, from the photos) and a little on the dry side. I think I'd like to try the concept again with a fudgier brownie recipe, and I'll probably add more graham crackers. Also, I wonder what it would be like if I covered the top in mini marshmallows, like you do for sweet potato casserole? Hm. Lots of possibilities here!

Oh, and you know that after two s'more baked good failures in one week that we had to make actual s'mores. I am the queen of stovetop s'mores. And it was good to finally get that s'more flavor.

S'mores Brownies
from Joy the Baker
makes 12-15, depending on how big you like your brownies

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1-1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup graham cracker, roughly crushed with your hands
12 big marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9×13-inch baking pan with 2-inch-high sides. Combine first 3 ingredients in small bowl. In a microwaveable bowl, combine butter and chocolate. Microwave on 50% power at 20- to 30-second intervals until just melted and smooth, stirring frequently.

Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Stir in warm chocolate mixture, then dry ingredients. Fold in graham crackers. Pour batter into prepared pan. Dot with 12 large marshmallows. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 30-40 minutes.

Marshmallows will be browned and puffy but will deflate as the brownies cool. Cool for at least 20 minutes, then slice with a sharp knife, cleaning the knife with hot water if it gets too messy and sticky. Serve or wrap individually in wax paper for storing.

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