Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bake-Off


Chocolate chip cookies are classic and practically every American family probably has a token recipe that they always make on occassion. When my sister and I discussed making chocolate chip cookies for the kids, we were both proclaiming our love of our own chocolate chip cookie recipes.  So, we decided to each make our own cookies and have the family be the judge of which one they liked best. Mine are made with shortening and hers are made with butter. I know...shortening is not something I really EVER bake with, but I've always made this cookie recipe and I just can't seem to find one that I really like better - in taste or texture.  Sharon's are actually quite similar, but I'm still partial to mine (pictured above). They are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside with a yummy combination of bittersweet and milk chocolate chips.  
We decided to both break out our recipes and see what the family thought.  However, we made them at my sister's place so she had her husband and family on her side and the familiarity of her own oven, which I discovered is a bit finicky. We made our cookie dough one evening and baked our cookies for the kids during a play date the next day.

I love using the small cookie scoop to make the size of the cookies consistent.  


These are my sister's cookies below. They were similar in size in texture also.  However, hers are made with real butter (what I usually prefer) and she used chocolate chunks instead of chips.  I like the idea, but it's a lot of chocolate in one bite. 


Here they are - my sister's vs. mine. I'm not sure if it's how they baked in her oven or the recipe, but they also turned out a little rough around the edges (no offense) and not as smooth and finished off as the way mine baked.


I still like my recipe, but will probably use hers on occasion also. I also have a few other proven recipes that I've found and would like to try and see if I find any butter recipes that I like better than mine.

The verdict!?  The toddlers were impartial, the kindergarteners were split and her husband ended up siding with her (go figure). You can try out the recipes and be the judge yourself.  Go ahead...do it.  Make a nice batch of cookies, pile up a plate with warm ones right out of the oven and grab a cold glass of milk. 


RECIPES:

Amanda's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:
1 C. shortening (I used non trans-fat shortening)
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
2 C. flour
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips
Directions:
Cream the shortening, sugars, eggs and vanilla till light and fluffy. Sift together dry ingredients and stir together with the creamed mixture. Add chocolate chips and nuts (optional).

Use a small cookie scoop to drop 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes (turning part way through).  Remove and cool on wire rack.

Sharon's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 C. brown sugar
1 C. white sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
3 C. flour
1 t. baking soda
1t. salt
1 bag chocolate chips

Directions:
Mix together butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla.  Sift together dry ingredients separately and add to wet. Mix in one bag of chocolate chips.  Bake at 375 degrees on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes (turning cookie sheets part way through). 

Maple Pecan Pie with Butter Pecan Ice Cream


My brother-in-law mentioned craving pecan pie since Thanksgiving so I decided to make a treat for him last weekend complete with homemade butter pecan ice cream. We all agreed that the pie was so sweet that vanilla ice cream would probably be more refreshing. But, the butter pecan ice cream turned out amazing and has been nice treat all on its own.

 I chose this recipe for pecan pie because it had maple syrup in it.  I thought it would add a little more flavor to the pie vs. just the normal corn syrup and brown sugar base. My family used to make maple syrup every spring .  I have fond memories of spending time in the maple woods, running sap lines and then waiting (rather impatiently) in the "sugar shanty" for the maple syrup to cook in the big boiler and be ready for us to test.  We would sip maple syrup from little paper cone cups and sometimes my dad or grandfather would boil hot dogs in the maple syrup for us. I know it sounds strange, but it was so yummy! 

I started out toasting the pecans for the ice cream. Even my little nephew commented how nice it smelled with the pecans toasting in the oven.  When they came out, I tossed them with the butter and salt and here we are...butter pecans.


The ice cream was made with a custard base, but first you cook the sugar and butter together and then mix it in with the whipping cream and whole milk.  There was nothing non-fat about this ice cream!


I monitored the temperature and brought it to right around 175 degrees.


It cooked until it coated the back of the spoon and was a nice thick custard base for our ice cream.


I ran it through the sieve to get a nice smooth base for the ice cream and then it was chilled for a while before it went in the ice cream machine.


Now, onto the pie...sugar, corn syrup and more butter!


I love it when the butter melts and looks all swirly.


The wheat crust was easy to make and work with.  It's nice and easy to wrap the dough around the rolling pin and roll it out into the pie dish.


I didn't do anything too fancy with the crust.  I just crimped it with a fork with the help of my 2-year-old niece.


The sugar/butter mixture is all mixed in with the pecans.


Then added to the chilled pie crust.


The pie isn't my favorite and while I LOVE sweet things, I do have to admit that this is a bit sweet for me.  But, we enjoyed it, my brother-in-law got his fix and now we have lots of yummy butter pecan ice cream to enjoy too.


Recipe for Maple Pecan Pie
From Bon App├ętit

Pie filling:

Ingredients:
3/4 C. real maple syrup
3/4 C. (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 C. light corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 C. pecan halves

Crust:

Ingredients:
1 1/4 C. all purpose flour
1/4 C. whole wheat flour
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg yolk
3 T. (or more) ice water

Directions:

Pie filling:

Stir syrup, brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves and butter melts. Increase heat and boil 1 minute. Cool to lukewarm, about 45 minutes.
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350°F. Roll out crust dough on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim dough overhang to 1 inch. Fold edge under, forming high-standing rim; crimp decoratively. Freeze crust until firm, about 20 minutes.
Whisk eggs, vanilla and salt in a bowl to blend. Gradually whisk maple syrup mixture into egg mixture. Stir in pecan halves.
Pour filling into crust. Bake pie until filling is slightly puffed around edges and center is set, about 55 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack. (Can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.) Cut pie into wedges and serve.

Crust:

Blend first 4 ingredients in processor. Add chilled butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk egg yolk and 3 tablespoons ice water in small bowl to blend. Add egg yolk mixture to processor and blend until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten dough into disk. Wrap dough in plastic and chill 1 hour. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Recipe for Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Ingredients:
2 C. pecans (1/2 lb), finely chopped
3 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 C. packed light brown sugar
2 t. cornstarch
4 large eggs
2 C. whole milk
2 C. heavy cream
3/4 t. vanilla

Directions:

Toast pecans in a shallow baking pan in middle of oven until fragrant and a shade darker, 7 to 8 minutes. Add butter and salt to hot pecans and toss until butter is melted, then cool pecans completely (they will absorb butter).
Whisk together brown sugar and cornstarch, then add eggs, whisking until combined. Bring milk and cream just to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then add to egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly, and transfer custard to saucepan.
Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon and registers 170 to 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes (do not let boil).
Immediately pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in vanilla, then cool, stirring occasionally. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, until cold, at least 3 hours.
Freeze custard in ice cream maker until almost firm. Stir together ice cream and pecans in a bowl, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Homemade Marshmallows


It's the middle of winter and my hands always seem to be freezing...whether I'm inside or out.  It is so comforting to warm up with a cup of a hot cocoa, tea or coffee. If the choice is hot cocoa, it just simply must be loaded with marshmallows. Kraft marshmallows are good, but homemade marshmallows are amazing! A few years ago, I attempted to make marshmallows for the first time and packaged them as gifts paired with homemade cocoa mix as Christmas gifts.  I made marshmallows again this past weekend with my little nephew who was giddy to lick the whisk and so excited to enjoy them melted in his hot cocoa after school the other day.

It starts with proofing plain gelatin in water until it solidifies.


In the mean time, you dissolve sugar, water and corn syrup together.


And, then bring it to a rolling boil and get to 240 degrees.  We used a probe thermometer inserted through a whisk that works really well.


The sugar mixture goes into the gelatin and is whisked until you have this lovely white marshmallow goo. This is when my nephew could tell it looked like marshmallow and got really excited.


This mixture was poured out onto a highly greased cookie sheet to solidify for a good two hours.


It came away from the pan perfectly and just need A LOT of powdered sugar to keep it from sticking to the counter.


We tried to find some small cookie cutters to do some shapes and after a few sticky attempts, I cut out strips of marshmallow and cut them into dozens of little marshmallow squares.


We had good portion of the counter top completely covered with this mountain of marshmallow!


Now we have a large Ziploc bag full of these yummy little marshmallows.  I don't know that we'll drink enough hot cocoa to use them up this winter, so we may try to make some Rice Krispie treats with homemade marshmallows. Or, some yummy Smore's treats using them.


Recipe for Homemade Marshmallows
Adapted from Food Network

Ingredients:
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup water (divided)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
Powdered sugar
Directions:
Butter a cookie sheet or square baking pan.  A smaller baking pan will make thicker marshmallows.

Put gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of water and let it proof and solidify (approximately 15 minutes). 

In a small saucepan, combine the other 1/2 cup of water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt.  Cook, covered, over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved.   Uncover and clip a candy thermometer (or use a probe thermometer as shown above) and continue to cook the mixture until it reaches 240 degrees, approximately 10 minutes.  Once it reaches 240 degrees, remove from the heat immediately.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all the syrup, increase the speed to high.  Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12-15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.

Pour the mixture into the buttered pan and allow to sit for at least 2 hours.  Turn the marshmallow out onto a surface coated with powdered sugar. Cut strips or cut out shapes and continue using powdered sugar to coat all cut sides so they do not stick.

Store with powdered sugar in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.

Chocolate-Espresso Lava Cakes


This dessert has been a staple in my family for the past 10+ years and we decided to make them on New Year's Eve this year.  This is the perfect rich and over indulgent dessert to have on the last day of the year! Plus, with the espresso, they were the perfect pick-me-up to try to keep us awake to ring in the New Year!  I know...it's so lame that I have a hard time staying up that late, but true.

It's a dense cake with a rich chocolate flavor that is intensified by the espresso.  The best part?  The lava!  It has the perfect gooey chocolate center from the melted chocolate chips.


I do like individual desserts and these have to be so everyone has their own portion of molten lava.  You just pile on the chocolate chips in the center of the batter.


Then press them in with the back of a spoon to make sure it melts inside the cake as it bakes.


They puff up a little bit and almost look like chocolate souffles.  But, no, these are rich chocolate cakes that are crispy on the outside edges and filled with hot melted chocolate on the inside. 


Because they are so rich, the addition of the whipped cream is a refreshing way to top it off.  The recipe calls for adding espresso powder to the whipped cream, but I like it plain and just enjoy the addition of the espresso powder in the cake itself. You decide on the whipped cream, but a glass of milk is essential!


Recipe for Chocolate Espresso Lava Cakes

Ingredients for cakes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 t. instant espresso powder (or instant coffee powder)
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. almond extract
12 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips (about 4 1/2 oz.)

Ingredients for whipped cream:
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
3 T. powdered sugar
1 t. espresso powder

Directions for cakes:
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder and baking powder into a medium bowl.  Place the butter in a large bowl; add both sugars and whisk until blended. Whisk in eggs one at a time, then vanilla and almond extracts. Whisk in dry ingredients to wet.  Divide batter among 6-8 greased ovenproof mugs or ramekins and place chocolate chips into the center of each cake and press chips into batter with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate for at least one hour (or up to one day). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake cakes uncovered until cakes are puffed and crusty and tester inserted into center comes out with thick batter attached.  Place warm ramekins or mugs on a plate to serve with whipped cream.

Directions for whipped cream:
Combine the cream, powdered sugar and espresso powder in a medium bowl and whisk until peaks form. Spoon a generous dollop on top of the cake!