Thursday, January 28, 2010

Black Forest Chocolate Cookies

So, my little attempt to take an approach that would be more waistline-friendly (or, truthfully, in my case--hip-line friendly) was an EPIC FAIL. Not because the recipe didn't work. Quite the opposite. It is delicious, in both raw dough and baked form. My thinking was that it's easier to give away a batch of cookies after you've tasted them than it is to give away a half of a pie. I thought I'd get more treats out of my house and less in my mouth. Problem is, it's just so easy with cookies to say to oneself, "I'll just have a little spoonful of dough. It's just a little spoonful."

Or, "I'll just have one cookie while they're warm--to taste. And then I'll have one when they're cool--to see what the difference is." And at the end of the day you find you've probably eaten the equivalent of a dozen cookies (at least).

With something like cake or pie, on the other hand, you commit to a piece and it's relatively easy to just have one. Apparently cookies are a hardship for me.

Nevertheless. This is about baking, not dieting!

I know none of you will be surprised when I say that this recipe is made of delicious goodness. It's from BAKED, so what would you expect?! The cherries are almost a subtle sort of aftertaste surprise. It seems like you're eating a chocolate cookie, but then there's this wonderful other flavor and texture that appear when you least expect it.

They have a perfectly thin crispy outside and a lovely gooey chewy inside that is everything I could ever want in a cookie.

They did get a little crumbly after a day or so. But, I'm realizing that pretty much every cookie I make does that. Altitude? Most likely. I guess that means all cookies need to be eaten on the day they're baked. Apparently, not a problem in my house.

And no, I'm not putting the recipe here because you just need to go out and buy this book yourself and bake along with me. Seriously!

TGIP Rating--Black Forest Chocolate Cookies--KEEPER. I may use this basic dough for a re-try of my Salted Toffee Fudge Cookies. Between the Black Forest Cookies and the German Chocolate Cake I'm having a lot of...thoughts. Which can make things complicated. I'll just say my list of "things to bake" is increasing exponentially. And mr. is starting to feel slighted by the fact that I never go back and make the things that were delicious successes.

Next up: The BAKED Brownie--assisted in their fame by people like Martha and Oprah. I know, it feels like I'm on a bit of a BAKED kick right now. I am!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Chess Pie

"So, spiker," you query, "why Chess Pie of all things?"

I can't even explain. It's something I've heard about but never eaten or baked, so it just seemed like I ought to do both--bake and eat.

"And, what," you question further, "does it have to do with Chess?"

Absolutely nothing. Some information from Wikipedia:

The pie seems to have no relation to the game of chess, which has led to much speculation as to the origin of this term. Some theorize that the name of the pie traces back to its ancestral England, where the dessert perhaps evolved from a similar cheese tart, in which the archaic "cheese" was used to describe pies of the same consistency even without that particular ingredient present in the recipe. In North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery, Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks argues that the name derives from Chester. One folk etymology suggests that it was referred to as "just pie", which soon shortened to "jus' pie" or "jess' pie," and then corrupted to "chess pie". The ingredients support this etymology, as chess pie is identical to the custard "base" for other custard pies that have an additional dominant flavor, such as pecan pie and chocolate custard pie. There is also a theory that the word "chess" pie comes from the piece of furniture that was common in the early South called a pie chest or pie safe. Chess pie may have been called chest pie at first because it held up well in the pie chest.

Fascinating, right?!

Another reason I was interested in this pie is because the ingredients are pantry items--you know, things you just have around the house all the time. I thought if it turned out to be yummy, it would be a great last minute treat, for, you know, those times when you want to make a dessert but don't have any cherries or chocolate around (and now you know what I prefer in MY desserts).

More information from Wikipedia:

Chess pie is a particularly sugary dessert characteristic of Southern U.S. cuisine. According to James Beard's American Cookery (1972) chess pie was brought from England originally, and was found in New England as well as Virginia. Recipes vary, but are generally similar in that they call for the preparation of a single crust and a filling composed of eggs, butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. What sets chess pie apart from many other custard pies is the addition of corn meal. Some recipes also call for corn syrup, which tends to create a more gelatinous consistency. The pie is then baked. The result is very sweet and is often consumed with coffee to offset this.
Chess pie is closely related to vinegar pie, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. Vinegar pie generally adds somewhere between a
teaspoonful and tablespoonful of vinegar to the above ingredients to "cut the sweetness".Some variations are called Jeff Davis or Jefferson Davis Pie.

Which made me decide I should specifically seek out a recipe that DID include cornmeal. And vinegar. There are hundreds of variations of Chess Pie out there, but I wanted one that was decidedly old-fashioned. So Fannie Farmer it is.

Chess Pie
from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham

*click here for printable version*

one 8- or 9-inch pie

The top is golden and almost crisp--a beautiful cover for the buttery filling.

Basic Pastry dough for an 8- or 9-inch pie shell
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
Heavy cream, whipped

Preheat the oven to 425. Line a pie pan with the rolled-out dough, then prick all over with a fork and press a piece of heavy-duty foil snugly into the shell. Bake for 6 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for 4 minutes more, until the shell is just beginning to color. Remove from the oven and prepare the filling. Reduce the heat to 350. Put the eggs in a bowl and beat with a fork until the yolks and whites are blended.

Add the sugar, cornmeal, and vinegar, and stir only enough to incorporate them. Stir in the butter and vanilla.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the top has browned and the filling has set. The pie will puff during baking, but will sink as it cools. Serve slightly warm (or at room temperature, but not chilled!), with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical of this recipe. But, lo and behold, it makes a delicious pie. As mr. exclaimed, "It tastes like Spring!" Neither of us could put a finger on why, but it does--it's sort of fresh and light. I thought the cornmeal would make it...well...mealy. Not at all, it has a nice, custardy texture. Prima said it looked like a crème brûlée pie, and, you know, it kind of tastes like that. It is sweet and buttery, but not tooth-achingly sweet--probably because of the vinegar. Naturally, I used my own pie crust recipe and method for prebaking, because, *blushingly* my pie crust is one of my favorite foods on the planet.

TGIP Rating--Chess Pie--KEEPER. A surprisingly delightful treat. I couldn't help but wonder what it would taste like with some fresh raspberries on top. Next time.

Next up: Black Forest Chocolate Cookies. I'm craving Cherry Chocolate Pie. But if I make one I'll eat it. All. So, this is a waistline-friendly compromise.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

German Chocolate Cake

Remember how BAKED is my favorite cookbook? Yeah. This is why. Here's another cake of theirs. What is this, the 4th or 5th cake recipe I've used out of this book? And each one has been unique: with a different texture and flavor. And every one delicious in its own right. This exactly what German Chocolate Cake should be. It has a soft, almost crumbly, but still moist texture. It's not overly sweet. The filling gives it such great crunch and flavor, but isn't gluey or cloying. Even the members of my family who don't particularly care for coconut cleaned their plates, so that should tell you something right there. And, naturally, I added a little milk chocolate frosting around the top edge. It would have been too much, I think, to frost the whole thing with it. But at the same time, it would have been a shame to leave it off completely.

As I've mentioned, we have a new camera. A fancy one. So this week, you get a bit of a photo essay.

Spiker Makes German Chocolate Cake

This is what I look like when I'm baking. Why so serious?

Coffee and buttermilk. Herein lies the secret to the perfectly not-too-sweet ness of this cake?

Only 1/2 the coconut is toasted. It gives the filling an extra boost of toasty flavor and crunch.

Somebody needs to work on their piping skills.

I think the only question left for me is this: can I get through all the recipes in this first book of theirs before they publish their second (which I await with bated breath)? I have no idea when the second will be published, so who knows? But you can bet I'm gonna give it a try.

TGIP Rating--German Chocolate Cake--KEEPER. Believe it or not I've never made a German Chocolate Cake of any kind. And when I've eaten other versions, I've never been wowed by them. Most likely because I've never had one this good. And trust, this one is GOOD.

Next up: Old Fashioned Chess Pie. I haven't found exactly the recipe I want to try YET. So if you have a family recipe you're dying to share, I'm open.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Salted Toffee Fudge Cookies

Not an epic fail. But not my best recipe either. I really like the combination of salt and chocolate. It's become pretty popular in fine chocolates and in ice creams. I wanted to see if I could use the combination in a cookie. I tried this a while back but didn't blog about it because I knew I would try it again, and I was confident that the second time would result in perfection. Well.

It's a good cookie in theory--a sweet chocolate cookie with almond toffee pieces in the dough, a sprinkling of kosher salt on top. Here's the problem--toffee melts. Yep. Which I figured out the first time I tried this. So, this time, the plan was that I was going to stabilize the toffee by stirring the almonds into it, bake the cookies at a lower temperature and there would be no meltage. *nodding* Rrriiigght. I tried. I admit I like the toffee itself this way, but it's not so much with the stable.

At any rate, here's the recipe. The dough is pretty much the recipe for Chocolate Crackle Cookies, with a little more flour. Give it a try. Seriously. They're very delicious. Sweet, crunchy, salty, buttery. Just strangely delicate and difficult to manage from pan to cooling rack.

Salted Toffee Fudge Cookies *click here for printable version*
Makes about 6 dozen

For Toffee:
1/2 lb. butter
1-1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. roasted chopped almonds
Melt butter and add sugar stirring constantly until golden brown or 290 degrees. Stir in almonds. Spread on greased cookie sheet and cool. Break into small (no larger than 1/2") pieces.

For Cookies:
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
8 tbls. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/3 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 c. milk
Kosher salt or sea salt for sprinkling

Heat oven to 300 degrees.
Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and light-brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until will combined. Add melted chocolate. With mixer on low speed, alternate adding dry ingredients and milk until just combined. Stir toffee pieces into batter by hand (use as much of the toffee as you like--up to the full recipe).

Drop by large spoonfuls onto lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for approximately 15 minutes. Allow to cool on pan for at least 5 minutes, then remove to rack to cool completely.

So, a couple of things about this recipe.

First, about the toffee:

If you haven't made toffee before, you're going to think it's not going to come together, the sugar and butter will separate and you'll think you've made a mess of it. KEEP COOKING (and stirring). Trust. You'll start to see some caramel-colored ribbons going through the mass of sugar and then it will all change to the right color, it won't be grainy, it will be smooth. And THEN AND ONLY THEN take it off the heat.

Now, about the cookie/pan/removal situation:

The toffee will melt when you bake the cookies. It just will. But it will resolidify as the cookies cool. You just have to give it time. The longer you can leave the cookies on the pan (or liner) before trying to move them, the more success you'll have. It might be a good idea to use parchment and just slide the parchment, with the cookies on it, off the pan to allow for more cooling time. Assuming you're adept with sliding things--which, frankly, I'm not. If you don't want to do that, leave the cookies on the pan to cool for 5-10 minutes. When you are ready to remove them to a rack, use a spatula that has a rather sharp edge like this.

And try to get under a chocolate portion rather than a toffee portion. That way, you'll have a lot more success getting under the entire cookie without it bending and breaking.

I like the idea of this cookie so much that I'm going to try some other possibilities for the cookie dough itself to see if that changes the results. And if anyone has ideas about how to stabilize the toffee, I'm all ears.

TGIP Rating--Salted Toffee Fudge Cookies--Delicious. A good recipe in theory, but it still needs some work.

Next up: German Chocolate Cake. Strangely, I don't think I've ever made one.

P.S. Please bear with me while I try to learn how to use mr.'s new camera. F stops and depth of field and ISOs are all Greek to me.