Apr 12, 2010

Salted Peanut Cookie Brittle

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Attention: This Salted Peanut Cookie Brittle is straight up crack. It will call you from the counter top all day long, and when you go out, you’ll think about it on your way home, and feel the need to cram a hunk in your face before you even remove your coat. This is that sort of thing. You have been warned.

If you’ve been following along at home, you might remember a Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle recipe I shared a while back. That was also extremely crack-like and dangerous to have all up in my area. This recipe is basically the same thing, except without the chocolate chips, which some of you may balk at. But trust me when I say that even chocolate chips become a moot point when replaced with a ton of crunchy, salty peanuts that populate the most crisp, buttery cookie dough you’ve ever had. The whole thing tastes like sweet, salty, caramely peanut brittle in cookie form. And if you can think of anything that sounds instantly more addictive than that, well, please report to me, because I want some of what you’ve got.

Thought the amounts of the ingredients are the same, the other thing that’s a little different from my other cookie brittle recipe is that the butter and sugar are creamed together in this recipe, rather then just melting the butter and stirring everything together. This makes the brittle even crisper and airier than the chocolate chip one, and I’m thinking of editing that one accordingly because it’s such a fabulous texture. But it’s all still so easy, I dare you to not make this stuff three times in the first week that you try it. There’s no faster way to the most delicious cookie-type thing you’ve ever had. Actually, I almost wish it wasn’t quite so easy to throw together–it would be far less dangerous that way.

This recipe comes from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies (and how, Ms. Maida), with just a few changes, namely the addition of a good dose of salt. Now, I need to tell you that Maida is one of my heroes. Love her, love her books, love everything about her. Also, you will be seeing quite a few Maida recipes in the coming months around here, because I could not stop myself from bookmarking when I settled in with this classic cookbook that is a year older than me. I am officially now in my Maida period. I just thought you should know.

I also think you should know that I would love to share some of my Salted Peanut Cookie Brittle with you (along with the chocolate chip version and hunks of this stupid delicious cake), at the San Francisco location of the National Food Bloggers’ Bake Sale! The bake sale will be taking place Saturday April 17th from 12-3 p.m. at my happy place, Omnivore Books, 3885 Cesar Chavez in San Francisco. If you live in the area, I hope you will stop by, say hi and buy a few goodies to help support a great cause!

That is, if you can manage to leave the house after making a batch of this cookie brittle.

Salted Peanut Cookie Brittle
Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen pieces

You can either cut the cookies neatly into bars while they are still warm, or if you’re feeling rebellious, you can just wait for the cookie slab to cool completely and then just break it into charmingly irregular pieces. If you don’t have a smaller rimmed sheet pan exactly the size of the 15 1/2 by 10 1/2-inch one called for here (I don’t), then fold aluminum foil into wide, sturdy strips and use them as a damn of sorts to approximate an area of that size on the sheet, give or take a couple inches. Don’t worry about perfection here with smoothing and spreading the dough just so–the more sort of rustic the brittle looks, the better. This stuff tastes best the day after baking and beyond.

1/ 2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned into the cup and leveled
4 ounces (1 cup) roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and beat in the salt and vanilla, about 30 seconds more. Reduce the speed to low and gradually stir in the flour, stopping to scrape the bowl as necessary. Stir in half the peanuts.

Turn the dough out onto a rimmed sheet pan, about 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 inches. Lightly flour your hands and pat the dough in a thin layer (don’t worry about making it perfectly even). Sprinkle the rest of the peanuts evenly over the dough. Cover the dough with a sheet of waxed or parchment paper and using a rolling pin or a tall, smooth glass, roll over the paper to smooth the dough and press the peanuts firmly into the dough.

Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, until golden brown, rotating the sheet halfway through baking time. Cool in the pan for five minutes before cutting the warm slab into bars, or wait for it too cool completely and break into pieces like brittle candy. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Apr 7, 2010

Little Lime Cupcakes

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Ahhh, Spring. In like an infuriatingly schizophrenic lion, out like a lamb. I don’t know what it’s been like where you live, but until this completely bizarre San Francisco weather is finished finding itself like an emo-tastic teenager, I’m just going to camp out in the living room Spring Break-style in a lawn chair with a Corona and a cute little lime cupcake. You can’t stop me.

There’s just something about lime that feels like Spring, isn’t there? It could be the thoroughly awesome way that it pairs with so many great boozy drinks, like, oh, say, the ones I downed when I was young and unafraid and blowing off afternoon college classes in May to join impromptu parties on the porches of dilapidated, likely condemnable off-campus bungalows in Central Illinois. If loving lime in that form is wrong, then Lordy loo, I sure don’t want to be right.

But I also love lime in desserts, and you know, I just don’t think the poor lime gets enough props in the dessert world. When people think citrus desserts, they often go straight for the sure thing, the lemon. Not that there’s anything unlovable about lemon–it’s perfect, really. But lime pops, utterly green and fresh and sharp. And when its zest is sprinkled into cake batter and its juice is made into a zippy soaking syrup, it’s the perfect thing to boost a batch of wee cupcakes into an instant Springtime party, no booze required. Though if you decide to serve them with shots of tequila, well, I certainly wouldn’t fault you for that. That would be the pot calling the kettle black, now wouldn’t it? Hiccup.

Little Lime Cupcakes

You can absolutely make these into 18 full-sized cupcakes–just double the lime syrup and put about 2 teaspoons on each, or more if you really want your cupcakes zippy, and multiply the frosting by 1.5 times. I generously frosted my cupcakes, as you can see in the photos, but if you like less icing on yours, you can probably get away with halving the frosting for minis and keeping it as is for full-sized cupcakes. Increase the baking time to 22-25 minutes for big cupcakes.

Makes about 4 dozen

For the cupcakes:

2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature

For the lime syrup:

1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons water

For the frosting:

1 12-ounce bag white chocolate chips
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

Place an oven rack to the center position and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line mini muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together, the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and lime zest. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and turn the mixer on low. With the mixer running, gradually drop in the butter pieces and mix until the texture is uniform and the bits of butter aren’t discernable, about 2 minutes. With the mixer still on low, begin slowly pouring in the wet ingredients. When all the wet ingredients have been added, crank the speed up to medium and mix until the batter is light and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Portion the batter into the muffin tins (a scant tablespoon in each liner) and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched, 10-12 minutes. Let cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are baking, make the lime syrup: In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, lime juice and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Boil until the sugar is dissolved, and the syrup is clear and slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Set aside to cool.

Make the white chocolate cream cheese frosting: Slowly melt the white chocolate chips, either in a microwave safe bowl at 50% power in the microwave in 45 seconds intervals, stirring after each interval, or over a double boiler. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for a minute on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Beat in the melted white chocolate until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary.

When the cupcakes have cooled, prick each one deeply with a fork about 4-5 times. Carefully spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of syrup over each cake. Allow the syrup to soak into the cakes for about 10 minutes, then frost and decorate as desired. Refrigerate any leftover cupcakes for up to 3 days.

Apr 3, 2010

Everyday Cookies

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Okay, so we all know that besides a whole lot of tomfoolery, this blog runs primarily on sweet cream butter and granulated sugar. I love that. Full fat dairy and sugar turn me on. But every once in a while, even I get all California with myself and feel the need to reduce a little, for lack of a better word. Up the water and vegetable intake, cut back on the white sugar and flour, run an extra mile and work another date with Jillian into the week. And put the kibosh on the produce that ends up uneaten, like the constant lone banana that is always taunting me from the counter top, destined for the compost. Sidenote: How is there always one poor banana left speckling away in the fruit basket? How?

The funny thing is, after a couple days of this virtuous living business, the sweet tooth takes a back seat, or at the very least, all that sugar seems a little less appealing. No, guys, I’m serious. Why are you all laughing at me?! Psshh.

Anyway. Despite this this new leaf I’ll be turning over for the next 48 hours or so until I can’t take it anymore, I. Must. Bake. It’s in my blood. If I go too many days without whisking or folding, I get the shakes. Plus, Little C is a whopping 19 months old now, and cookies are akin to currency around here. Enter this gem of a recipe.

If ever there were an everyday cookie, this would be it. I mean, granted, in my world, pretty much every cookie can be everyday cookie, but this one is special. They come together in a flash, nearly a one-bowl deal with a wooden spoon, full of the kind of totally wholesome ingredients that just make you feel good all over. Besides the fact that I can already sense the comments coming from friends and family who might be curious if my next trick will involve moving to a commune, I couldn’t wait to share this recipe with you. And at the great risk of sounding like a dime-a-dozen press release for a new cookbook for moms or something, this is quick and easy, real food for a real day. And I think that’s pretty great.

This cookie is all oatmeal (some ground into flour, some left whole and tweedy), no white flour, only a bit of raw sugar and that aforementioned overripe mashed banana for a completely satisfying sweetness. Heck, since there’s oil involved, but no eggs or butter, these could even be vegan in flash, just by swapping out the cow milk for soy and using dairy-free dark chocolate chips. And since one of my favorite people in the entire universe is my utterly adorable vegan little sister, this is a recipe I’ll be hanging onto for a long time coming.

Crunchy and nubbly on the outside, with an interior like an awesome banana bread, the texture here is totally craveworthy. Crammed with toasty nuts and bits of chocolate in addition to the all the health involved, these don’t taste like anything other than just dang good cookies. The kind you can shove one after the next into your face without thinking. I’m just saying.

Everyday Cookies
Adapted loosely from Health Magazine, November 2008, of all places

These cookies could easily be made vegan–just swap out the cow’s milk for soy and use a dairy-free chocolate chip, such as the semi-sweet ones by Tropical Source. These could be made even more virtuous by leaving out the chocolate entirely and using raisins or other dried fruits as an add-in. Some shredded toasted coconut wouldn’t hurt, either, if you’re into that sort of thing. Use any nut you like, roughly chopped, and lightly toasted in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes.

Makes about 16

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raw (turbinado) sugar
1 large ripe banana
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup milk (can be swapped out for soy–see note)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds (or other nut you prefer), lightly toasted
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (see note)

Position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Place 1 1/4 cups of the oats in a food processor or clean coffee grinder (my preference) and grind the oats very finely into a flour. Pour into a large mixing bowl and whisk together with the remaining 3/4 cup of oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Set aside.

Peel and halve the banana. Chop half into a medium dice and set aside. Place the other half in a medium bowl and mash well with a fork or your hands until it resembles a puree–no big chunks. Whisk in the oil, milk and vanilla.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wets. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir the batter until well-blended. Fold in the nuts and chocolate chips and chopped banana pieces. Let stand for about 10-15 minutes. Drop the batter in to mounds, 2 tablespoons each, onto the baking sheets, no more than 9 per sheet. Bake until puffed and golden, 22-25 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Cool for 2 minutes on the sheets before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days (note: after the first day or so, their outer crunch will go soft, but they’ll still be delicious).

Mar 31, 2010

What I’m Loving Right Now

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In the interest of doing two of my very favorite things–making lists and excitedly telling others about the latest inanimate objects with which I am obsessed, eyes wide and hands flapping–I bring you a new series of posts from the POC kitchen called “What I’m Loving Right Now”**. I hope you’ll not only comment on my crazed collection of finery, but also share what little baubles and gadgets are making your life in the kitchen easier/more efficient/manically, inexplicably happier. Because we’re friends, and because we all need another reason to have that online shopping mouse-clicking finger get all itchy. You’re welcome.

A few of you sent love letters to this completely adorable cake tester after it appeared in the post about this completely delicious recipe. And I don’t blame you. It’s just so sweet I could pass out. Plus, I no longer have to deal with fumbling for a toothpick, spilling half of them on the floor in the process and then two days later getting stabbed in the foot with the one blasted toothpick that I missed during the curse-filled cleanup. I got this tester from Crate and Barrel on a whim, when I needed to spend a wee bit more to get free shipping on an order. Because I’m a sucker. But now I’m a sucker with a glee-inducing cake tester! La-la-la! Win!

I also have to shout out these awesome cutters from Fox Run. I bought them from one of my favorite shops because I was after a set of scalloped cutters for dainty roll-out cookies like shortbreads and these little gems. And that’s how I used them for a couple weeks until I realized that when you flip them over they are round cutters too! I never said I was quick on the uptake, people. So all of a sudden I had two different sets of cutters and would no longer have to use an old tuna can to cut out biscuits. What a great day that was! Pretend you understand the thrill, won’t you?

What little things are you loving right now?

**To the skeptics: I am in no way, shape or form associated with any of these companies or products. If I were, you best believe I’d make that abundantly clear. These are items from my own personal collection of stuff that I regularly use and love.

Mar 29, 2010

Toasted Coconut-Chip Gelato

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Darling Readers, I completely understand the polarizing effects of coconut. As with opinions on, oh, say, cilantro or Los Angeles, I wouldn’t dream of trying to convert the haters. So if you’re not on Team Coconut, then I’ll catch you on the next post, no hard feelings. But if you’re like me and your most recent personal battles involve resisting the urge to mow a sleeve of Samoas each morning for breakfast, then take my hand, and I will lead you to the ambrosial Promised Land of Coconut with this gem of a recipe. It will absolutely make your day.

Speaking of day-making developments, I recently was all puffed up with pride to learn that Food52 posted a write-up about this here site. I’ve been a rabid Food52 fan since its launch, and consider it to be one of the most inspired food sites out there, full of great, meticulously tested recipes and lots of forehead-smacking “why didn’t I think of that?” ideas. Each week they hold a contest to pick the best recipe in a given category, and all the weekly winners will go into a cookbook to be published at the end of the year (ahem, 52 weeks…get it?). This gelato recipe was one of the weekly winners, and oh, man, it does not disappoint.

Okay, so I am all for the occasional teeny scoop of artisanal ice cream so rich and dense that you really can’t handle more than a tiny portion. Eets ver-ee, oh, how do you seeeyyy….French. But my ideal ice cream is lighter, not too sweet, more milk than cream. Which is to say the kind of ice cream you can shovel into your face from a cereal bowl with a serving spoon. And this ice cream fits the bill. It’s made with all whole milk, no cream, and the richness comes from egg yolks and lots and lots of shredded coconut.

The method of giving the ice cream base its dreamy coconut flavor was so interesting to me–you basically steep a bunch in the custard, and give it a good long rest in the fridge overnight before freezing it. Some ice cream batters you can sort of speed-chill before putting them in your ice cream maker and it works out fine, but for the best flavor in this recipe, the extra time to love up that custard with real coconut flavor is so worth it. A good hit of vanilla bean paste rounds the whole thing out.

Sidenote: Have I told you how I’ve developed an unnatural obsession with vanilla bean paste? Huge vanilla flavor, just huge. Gorgeous bean flecks everywhere. It’s the most perfect marriage of vanilla extract and beans, without having to deal with scraping and storing pods that are so pricey and always tend to dry out faster than I can use them. I want to be buried with a jar of Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. This has been an unsponsored love-fest endorsement from the Piece of Cake Kitchen. We will now return to the ice cream.

The best part is that its punched up at the end with an add-in of toasted coconut that gives an incredible depth of flavor and irresistible texture. And since I can’t leave well enough alone, I threw in a handful of mini chocolate chips and now I can’t imagine my life without having put them in there.

If you’re like me and you prefer a high ratio of tasty bits to cream in your ice cream, then you will be in your element with this gelato. It’s the absolute perfect thing to keep you feeling all blissful and summery during these “Is it spring? Is it winter? Oh, it’s sunny! No, wait. WTF, RAIN?!” sort of times.

Toasted Coconut-Chip Gelato
Adapted from Food52 and Nicole Lang of Food Punk

The original recipe calls for all dessicated coconut, a very finely shredded unsweetened coconut that can be easily found at places like Whole Foods and other natural foods stores. I’m including that measurement here. I only had one cup dessicated coconut on hand, but a big thing of regular sweetened shredded coconut, so I used the sweetened coconut in the ice cream base and held back 1/4 cup of the sugar to account for the sugar in the coconut, and it turned out wonderfully. I imagine if you held back even more sugar, you could use all sweetened coconut in this recipe if it’s all you have on hand, but I have to say it would be worth it to seek out the dessicated coconut for adding in at the end–its texture is so perfect in the finished ice cream.

Makes 1 generous pint

2 cups desiccated coconut
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 whole vanilla bean, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract)
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread one cup of the coconut in a small baking pan and toast it in the oven for about 10 minutes, until golden brown stirring once or twice. Set aside.

Fill a large bowl with several inches of cold water and add ice. Set a smaller bowl over the ice bath. Make sure the water level isn’t so high that water can get into the smaller bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla bean paste. Stir in the remaining cup of untoasted coconut. Keep whisking occasionally as the custard warms and then comes just to a bubble and thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon and you can run your finger through the custard on the spoon and a track remains, its ready.

Pour the custard into the small bowl over the ice bath, and stir it often until the custard is cool to the touch. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Freeze the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Stir in the cup of toasted coconut and chocolate chips during the last few minutes of churning. Freeze in an airtight container.

Mar 23, 2010

Triple Chocolate-Pecan Biscotti

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I ask you, can one be OWNED by biscotti? Because this past weekend, I became captivated by a recipe for them, with motivation to do little else than bake them and get them in my belly. I was twinkly-eyed, distracted, lovelorn for this biscotti.

So as of today, my refrigerator is still badly in need of a clean-out. Laundry is sitting in heaps, mocking me. And I’m not entirely certain I still have a living room rug under all those flippin’ wooden puzzle pieces that are constantly stabbing me in the metatarsals. But you know what I am sure of? Domestic failures don’t seem nearly as depressing when you survey them while munching these completely addictive Triple Chocolate-Pecan biscotti. So make a batch, and you, too, might be able to put off mopping those floors for one more week! You’re welcome.

Full disclosure: I’ve not had great luck with biscotti recipes in the past. I know, I know, I can hear your cries of “ohhh, but they’re so fun to make and so eeeeeaaasy!”. Well, I know they’re supposed to be fun and easy, and maybe it was my lack of a biscotti thumb or whatever, but until now, I’d never turned out a batch that I would consider to be transcendent, and besides that, they’d get all crumbly during slicing before the final bake, or they’d be weirdly coarse or so hard you could crack a veneer or just generally uninteresting. But lo, we have a winner now, people. And it comes from the cookbook I’m currently keeping under my pillow at night, Karen DeMasco’s totally lovely The Craft of Baking.

These glorious chocolate biscotti (actually triple-chocolate, if you’re counting–in powdered, chipped and dipped forms) actually had me thinking I was headed for another failure at first, because the dough is so crazy soft and sticky, it’s really more like a thick brownie batter, and I was all, “WTF, Karen?”. But with my beloved bench scraper (which I hope you have and if not, please save yourself and get one) and a generous dusting of flour on my work surface (and I do mean generous–like a 1/3 cup or more), I was able to cajole the soft dough into planks for the first bake.

Turns out, I think the super wet dough is what makes these biscotti so amazing–light, fine-textured, delicate and crisp, not jaw-achingly cronch-y like so many coffee shop specimens that give biscotti a bad name. It also makes for an easy slicing before the final bake, which this biscotti-wary baker was very grateful for.

Also, I need to tell you that the chocolate flavor here is so bold, it’s almost surprising. As I am wont to do, I used Valrhona cocoa, which I’m sure didn’t hurt, but the real secret here is a sort of homemade coffee extract that DeMasco uses often in her recipes, and like the way a great vanilla extract boosts all those dreamy notes of sweet butter and sugar in other recipes, the bright flavor of coffee adds a roundness to chocolate that is so next-level, I simply don’t have the adjectives on me to explain it. It’s like a chocolatey punch in the face. But in a good way. See, I told you I didn’t have the adjectives to spare.

After the last bake, even just bare and plucked straight off the baking sheet, these biscotti had me at hello. In fact, I immediately scarfed down a second one, you know, just to be sure. Yep, I was definitely in a relationship with this biscotti. But that wasn’t enough for me. I needed to make this understanding official, and take things to the next level. And so, I did the only logical thing.

And that, my friends, is how you get OWNED by biscotti. Let me know how it goes when it meets your parents.

Triple Chocolate-Pecan Biscotti
Adapted from The Craft of Baking

This dough is extremely sticky, so have lots of extra flour standing by before you begin working with it. If pecans aren’t your thing, walnuts, almonds and pistachios would all be nice here too. I am suggesting a half-and-half blend of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips for dipping, because for me, it’s the perfect balance, but if you’d like to use just one kind of chips, go for semi-sweet.

Makes about 3 dozen

For the cookies:

1 cup pecan pieces, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon hot water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (regular size is fine)

For dipping:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli 60% cacao)
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Place the pecan pieces in a small baking pan. Toast for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

Stir together the instant espresso powder and hot water in a small bowl to make a coffee extract. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, baking soda and salt. Beat on low speed until the butter is no longer visible and the mixture resembles hot cocoa powder, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla and coffee extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture until well-blended. Stir in the cooled pecans and mini chocolate chips.

Generously cover a work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out onto the work surface, and flour your hands well, too–the dough will be very soft and sticky. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough in half, and shape each portion into a plank, about 16 inches long by 2 inches wide (don’t fear having too much flour on the outside of the planks–you can dust off the excess later). Carefully transfer them to a baking sheet about 3 inches apart.

Bake until the planks are firm to the touch, 20-25 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking. Transfer the planks, still on the parchment or baking mat, to a cooling rack, and let cool for about 5 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

Transfer the planks to a cutting board, and use a pastry brush to dust off any excess flour. With a large serrated knife, cut the planks on the diagonal into about 1/3-inch slices. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet and return them to the oven until they are dry and firm, about 1 hour. Let cool completely on the baking sheet set on a wire rack.

Combine the bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Quick-temper the chocolate by removing half the chips to another bowl, and microwaving the remainder in 30 second bursts on high power until completely melted, stirring after each 30 second interval. Add the rest of the chips to the melted chocolate and stir until all the chips are totally melted. Dip one end of each cookie in the melted chocolate and set on a parchment-lined baking sheet to set at room temperature.

The biscotti can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Mar 19, 2010

My Favorite Cheesecake

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In the spirit of busting through more deep, life-altering questions (such as “Is a brownie made without melted chocolate really a brownie?” and “Are baked doughnuts really doughnuts?“), I bring you two more doozies. First, is a cheesecake without a graham cracker crust actually a cheesecake? And second, will you all brutally force me into solitary confinement to a terrifying windowless cell festooned with Sandra Lee-designed tablescapes if I tell you that my very favorite cheesecake is not only crustless, but contains Bisquick?

Well, dear readers, I have answers to these new questions. To the first I say unto you, abso-flippin’-lutely, it is EVER a cheesecake!, and about the Bisquick, don’t hate–participate!

Like I recently said about my beloved homemade marshmallows, I sort of can’t believe I’ve never told you about this cheesecake before. This cheesecake has been with me for my entire life. As in, it is my earliest memory of dessert. So since babyhood, this cheesecake and I have known each other. And while others may track their personal timelines in terms of annual family vacations or grades in school, I tend to remember flavors of birthday cakes and what kind of cookies I made for Christmas in a given year. This cheesecake is my Book of Genesis, people. I am very serious about this cheesecake.

It is also an important recipe because it is one of the very few things my mother ever baked. Which is not to say that my mother is no longer with us–she is very much still with us and I have to fight her off with a stick ever since giving birth to her first grandchild. My mom is an excellent cook, the intuitive type that rarely cooks with recipes, and can make a meal out of any random combination of items that you may have in your pantry right this minute. But my mom has never been much of a baker–it’s just not her thing. However, there are two things that I remember her baking when I was little, and one of them was this cheesecake.

Back in the late 70s/early 80s, General Mills released a gloriously kitschy slew of sweet and savory pie recipes called “Impossible Pies” that were all the rage. And my mom, being on the cutting edge of all things trendy, like Jazzercising, shoulder pads and hair perming, fully embraced the Impossible Pie. The basic idea was that a master list of ingredients (including milk and Bisquick) plus a few various additions could all be thrown into a blender and poured into a bare baking dish, and during baking a sort of thin “crust” would magically form on the top, bottom and sides of the pie, no pre-formed crust required. Impossible, you say? Exactly. Except it’s true! Magic!

My mom confirms her famous cheesecake recipe is a riff on Bisquick’s “Impossible Cheesecake”, but she eliminated the milk and cut down significantly on the Bisquick, which really makes the cream cheese the star, and added a punch of lemon that truly makes the whole thing shine. She also always used an electric hand mixer instead of a blender, which incorporates a bit more air into the batter. The whole thing takes less than 10 minutes to get into the oven. No fussy water bath or springform pannery involved. It’s a beautiful thing.

Even if you are a die-hard cheesecake fanatic who scoffs at anything without a graham cracker crust being called a cheesecake, I don’t think you can deny that this particular cheesecake is absolutely delicious–tangy, creamy, not too sweet, a perfect balance of richness and light. The killer is the slick of sour cream topping. Oh mah gah. It’s a two-slicer situation. Get excited.

Mom’s Cheesecake

Use Philadelphia brand cream cheese, for this recipe and all other recipes calling for cream cheese. It’s actually the standard brand that most recipes use in testing because it’s the creamiest and has the least water content of any brand out there. Spend the extra buck for the good stuff–it absolutely makes a difference. And yes, you can use light cream cheese and light sour cream and it will still be completely edible, but don’t do fat-free anything, please, I beg of you.

Serves 8-10

For the cake:

2 8-ounce packages Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Bisquick baking mix

For the sour cream topping:

8 ounces sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch ceramic or glass pie plate with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, place the cream cheese, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, sugar and Bisquick. Start mixing on low speed with an electric mixer until everything is incorporated, then raise the speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake until the cheesecake is slightly puffed and golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Set on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes (it will deflate a bit during this time).

Meanwhile, make the topping: stir together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla until well-blended. Pour over the warm cheesecake and smooth with a small spatula. Refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 2 hours, before serving. Cover any leftovers tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


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