Dec 4, 2009

Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies

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While I’m pretty much always a sucker for a great heirloom recipe, this time of year really gets me into the spirit of seeking out recipes that have soul. The more hands that have passed over a recipe, the better. When I got to talking to my Gramma about some of her favorite recipes this past summer, the first one to come up was for an oatmeal cookie that was apparently so phenomenal, it sounded like it could cure all ailments. When her packet of handwritten recipe cards arrived in my mailbox a few weeks later, I was so manically happy to see that a card for Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies had made it into the envelope. I turned out a batch just a few days later, and lo, they lived up the hype.

Now, there’s not a whole lot to hate on with oatmeal cookies in general. Butter, brown sugar, nubbly with earthy oats–who can’t get on board with that? Communists, that’s who. But this recipe does the norm one better–the addition of sweet, plump golden raisins and chopped walnuts that offer up their distinct flavor yet somehow nearly disappear into the tweedy depths of a richly caramel-flavored oatmeal cookie base.

I thought it so interesting that this recipe called for golden raisins. I mean, I can’t even remember the last time I bought a box of these things, if ever. The flavor of a golden raisin is so much more delicate than that if its winey black raisin counterpart. Plus, I find them to be plumper and more moist, which could be a reason for the cookie turning out so wonderfully moist and chewy–more of the liquid in the recipe goes to hydrating the dry ingredients and isn’t robbed by drier dark raisins. Just a theory here, but it works for me. If Mrs. Braun (pronounced brown) was still alive, I might ask her what she thought. But then, from what I’ve heard about Mrs. Braun, the mother-in-law of one of my Gramma’s friends, these oatmeal cookies were one of the more likeable things about her. So maybe I’d keep my questions to myself.

Another thing that I don’t usually use in cookie recipes makes an appearance here–shortening. Shudder. But alas, it does have its place in baking and it does turn out consistently chewy cookies. So I couldn’t shun it altogether. But I did tinker with the recipe a bit (please don’t come haunt me for this, Mrs. Braun) so it would cut back on the skeevy shortening and include some butter, the flavor of which is just unbeatable. I should note that for half a minute I contemplated buying butter-flavored shortening, but then I thought it might just be gateway fat into even scarier fat purchases–what would be next for me? Lard? Oleo? A very slippery slope, I’d say (pun absolutely intended).

Happily, the half butter-half shortening combination worked beautifully. These cookies came out moist and chewy with beautifully crisp edges and an almost lacy landscape, and kept fabulously on the counter. For the the two days they stuck around.

Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies

The unbaked dough freezes beautifully–just scoop the portions onto a sheet pan, freeze until solid, and toss the frozen dough balls into a big ziptop bag. Bake them straight out of the freezer for just a minute or two more than usual. Pack as many golden raisins and walnuts as you like into these cookies–the amounts are just a suggestion.

Makes about 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups old-fashioned or rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Generous 3/4 cup golden raisins
Generous 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk in the oats and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the shortening, butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients until almost fully incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts until the batter is well-blended.

Drop the batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake one sheet
at a time, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the cookies are nicely browned, about 10-12 minutes. Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Nov 30, 2009

Tartine’s Pumpkin Pie

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What a weekend, people! I am still reeling over my 27:11 finish in my first 5k race yesterday (Top 10 in my age group?! Who am I?). Our Thanksgiving Day was fantastic–Baby C discovered the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV and spent the better part of the morning stomping her feet, kicking and clapping her hands after seeing the Rockettes perform for the first time. I spent the morning going for a long run and then cooking and baking our contributions to the fabulous holiday meal we had with old friends later in the day. Both dishes we brought with us were borrowed/stolen from the cookbooks of two of my favorite places in San Francisco–the unbelievably dreamy buttermilk mashed potatoes from Zuni Cafe (oh mah gah, make these at your earliest convenience, please and thank you), and the brandy-spiked Pumpkin Pie from Tartine Bakery.

In the Piece of Cake Recipe Box, you’ll also find a recipe for a Pumpkin Tart, which I made a few Thanksgivings ago and it’s also a completely fabulous addition to any holiday menu. But really, this latest pumpkin pie recipe couldn’t be more different from the tart. I remember falling in love with the first pumpkin tart because it changed my mind about the concept of pumpkin pie–it had the most mellow pumpkin flavor and was delightfully sweet and I still have a soft spot for that tart. But lately I’ve been drawn to less sweet desserts, and Tartine’s recipe for pumpkin pie fits the bill–the earthy flavor of pumpkin is front and center here, with a lovely undercurrent of gentle spices, the barest sprinkle of brown sugar, a glug of brandy adding sparkle, and a healthy amount of heavy cream to round it all out. This is The Full Monty of pumpkin pies–more about true pumpkin flavor, lush and full, than it is about a candied or caramelized filling.

A word about pie crust here. I love making pie crust, really I do. I know it comes together in a snap with less than five ingredients and there’s really nothing difficult about it, per se. But even the snappiest processes become laborious when you have a tiny person hanging onto your jeans. And since our Thanksgiving plans came together sort of last minute, I didn’t have extra time to plan ahead. So a store-bought crust was my friend on this day. I find most store brands to be waxy and heavy in the mouth and basically vile, mostly due to a whole lot of creepy ingredients. But there is a brand called The French Picnic that’s a perfectly lovely, all-butter crust that comes out nice and flaky and saves the day when you just don’t have the time or desire to make a scratch crust and so I totally recommend it.

On this day, however, even a store-bought crust couldn’t quell my manic state. I didn’t pay attention to how much the dough had warmed up before it went into the oven to prebake, so my awesome crimping job pretty much disappeared in the oven, but the filling more than made up for the amateurish-looking crust, and let’s face it–anything can be saved with a healthy blob of freshly whipped cream. With a hot cup of coffee, a slice of this pumpkin pie was a great little button on an All-American Thanksgiving feast, satisfying the sweet tooth just so without pushing anyone into rolling-on-the-floor with gluttony territory. Baby C gave it a solid endorsement by eating half a slice in short order, and I gave thanks that the child finally ate a serving of fruit that day.

Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from Tartine

For the crust, use any pie crust you like, homemade or store bought, and consult the source for how to partially bake the crust (you want it to look dry and pale, but not browned, with no dense or opaque areas). For a good store-bought crust, I recommend The French Picnic, which can be found at places like Whole Foods and gourmet grocery stores. Make sure the pie shell is well-chilled before going into the oven for prebaking. The sugar in the recipe can be adjusted for your sweet tooth with no effect on the setting of the filling.

Serves 8-10

1 10-inch, single-crust pie shell, partially baked and cooled
2 cups pure pumpkin puree
3 large whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/4 teaspoon regular ground)
1/8 teaspoon ground white or black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Position an oven rack the center position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, cream and brandy until well-blended. In a small bowl, combine the borwn sugar and spices. Whisk the spiced sugar into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake until the filling is set but wobbles ever so slightly in the very center when jiggled, about 60-75 minutes (the filling will set further as it cools). Let the pie cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with lots of freshly whipped cream. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Nov 25, 2009

Nubbly Bran Muffins with Golden Raisins and Cranberries

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So I suppose I really should be posting about something indisputably festive today, like the jazzy, brandy-spiked pumpkin pie recipe from Tartine that we’ll be devouring tomorrow. But well…I’m not. At least not yet. With so many drool-worthy blog posts out there all decked out in Thanksgiving finery, I feel like a total buzzkill sharing a recipe for bran muffins with you on Thanksgiving Eve. I mean, if you think about it, even the phrase bran muffins sounds a little like that sad little trumpet noise that sounds when something falls flat in a slapstick comedy scene. Wuhn-wuhhhhnnnn. Right?! But I assure you, dear readers, that this particular bran muffin recipe is anything but wan, and in fact it may be just the thing for the mornings surrounding Thanksgiving, when you need a little jolt of nutrition to help you prepare for, or recover from, the feeding frenzy.

These muffins made their way into my repertoire recently because I’d been on the hunt for something delicious and hearty and infinitely portable. Something that would indeed break the fast first thing in the morning with my beloved coffee, but not leave me too stuffed. And the reason I was searching for such a breakfast item is because I have officially gone off the deep end and am in the midst of training for my first half marathon which, if all goes as planned, I will be running the first week of February. This is all true. And in the spirit of giving, I should let you know that you may be getting more information about this in coming weeks than you really want.

Anyway, now that that completely insane proclamation has been made, let’s get back to the muffins, shall we? It’s no secret that bran muffins run the gamut of taste and texture. Which is to say that they can have a very bad taste and texture not unlike that of a corrugated cardboard box, and they can also be found with such a great taste and texture that surely they must contain very little of the healthful ingredient after which they are named, in addition to so much additional fat and sugar that you may as well just go for the cherry cheese Danish, for crying out loud.

This bran muffin recipe strikes a nice balance, more or less a metaphor for how I like to approach my diet in everyday life. Lots of good fiber in the form of bran cereal and whole wheat flour, and a fat gram count made quite moderate by a good amount of plain yogurt in the mix instead of just lots of oil or somesuch. On the other hand, there is a (relatively) small amount of white flour and butter in the batter that ensure good flavor and texture.

Add in a nice studding of cheery bits of golden raisins and dried cranberries that peek out like little jewels among the nubbly tops, and you’ve got yourself some morning fuel that’s fit for preparing for any kind of marathon. Whether that marathon involves running or the sport of eating.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Nubbly Bran Muffins with Golden Raisins and Cranberries
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Swap out the dried fruits for anything that you like–currants, dark raisins, dried cherries and apricots would all be good here. For the cereal, you want to get for Kellogg’s All-Bran, and look for the “Original” variety that looks like twigs, not the bran buds. You can substitute lowfat or nonfat yogurt for the whole milk, though the muffins won’t be quite as flavorful.

Makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon water
2 1/4 cups All-Bran Original cereal
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalte butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups plain whole milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or lightly grease the tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the raisins, cranberries and teaspoon of water in a small microwave-safe dish. Cover with plastic wrap and cut a steam vent in the plastic. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, and then let the bowl stand, covered, until the dried fruit is plump and softened, about 5 minutes. If necessary, blot off any extra water with a paper towel.

Process only half of the cereal in a food processor until very finely ground, about one minute, and set aside.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt in a large bowl, and set these aside as well.

Whisk together the egg, egg yolk, brown sugar, maple syrup and vanilla until well-blended. Whisk in the melted butter to combine. Stir in the processed and unprocessed cereal, and let the mixture sit until the cereal is evenly moistened, about 5 minutes (it will be lumpy).

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold gently to blend–do not overmix. Fold in the raisins and cranberries. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan using a standard ice cream scoop, leaving the batter in rounded mounds (this will make for prettier muffins).

Bake until the muffins are deeply golden and a toothpick inserted into one of the center muffins comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes more before serving. Store completely cooled muffins at room temperature in an airtight container for up to two days.

Nov 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Ideas and Giveaway Winner!

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Oh, you guys. You know, I was genuinely curious to hear about your favorite holiday cookies when I threw the question out there for the cookie cutter giveaway. But I’ve gotta say, I never expected to have all your answers get me so excited for the holidays. I absolutely loved reading all your responses and will be thinking about all the great inspiration you’ve given me as I start planning this year’s cookie tins. A big hooray! goes to the randomly selected winner of the Ann Clark holiday cookie cutter gift set…

Lisa, who said “My favorite holiday cookie is the sugar cookie.”

Simple and to the point, Lisa. I like it! Contact me at pieceofcakedesserts (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address so I can send the set your way. And also so we’ll all know where to go and greedily expect lots of adorably decorated sugar cookies.

After hearing about so many of your favorite holiday treats and so many stories that go along with them, I know you’re not dealing with a shortage of good ideas as we head into the holiday baking season. But because I want to return the favor of all your holiday baking inspiration and because I’m a Type-A list-maker, here are some suggestions for a great Thanksgiving dessert table from the Piece of Cake kitchen. Enjoy!

Chewy Apple-Oat Bars with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. An apple pie-oatmeal cookie-cheesecake hybrid. If you have a problem with that combination, there’s something wrong with your soul.

Caramel Crumb Bars. Because nothing says holiday eating like butter, butter, butter and sugar in various forms.

Cheese Cake from Denmark. Made with firm-ripe Bosc pears or sweet, crisp apples like Fujis or Honeycrisps, this is like no other cheesecake you’ve ever had before.

Apple Cider Pudding Cake. An easy and unusual recipe that results in a tender, moist apple-studded cake that creates its own dessert sauce, with a layer of pebbly streusel on top.

Plum Crumble Tart. This tart screams fall. Easy and so pretty. Make it your own by swapping out the plums with other firm-ripe fruits and adding different spices.

Lemon Bars. One of my personal favorites. Light, sweet-tart, and completely refreshing. The perfect button on a big, elaborate meal.

Espresso Brownies. The only recipe from the Piece of Cake kitchen that has a mix involved, and I wholeheartedly endorse it. With a few extra pieces of flair, the chocolate lovers in your holiday crowd will think they were made from scratch, and your sanity will be saved with this quick and simple but totally decadent recipe.

Pumpkin Tart. Because it’s Thanksgiving, for crying out loud!

Nov 14, 2009

Maple-Pecan Shortbread

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To continue our conversation about flavors that spark debate, I don’t think I’m way off base to add maple to the list, am I? For example, I implore you to show me the person who goes painstakingly pricking the bottom of each chocolate in an assorted box in a mad search for the maple-filled one (oh, don’t tell me you haven’t done the same seeking out a vanilla buttercream or caramel). Of course, I do think there are occasions where the deep, distinct flavor of maple can really shine, beyond the weekend breakfast table. And there’s no better time than November (ahem, right now) to incorporate some maple into your life, like in some buttery, crunchy Maple-Pecan Shortbread Cookies.

This recipe takes the familiar shortbread and gives it a little something special. Well, really two somethings–a studding of earthy pecans and the rich flavor of real maple syrup. That pancake syrup that’s been rolling around in your refrigerator door won’t do the trick here. You want the real deal, dark amber maple syrup. The grade you choose depends on how much maple flavor you want. I wanted just a hint, so I went with Grade A, but Grade B or C would be great for the real maple lovers out there.

I was inspired to do a maple cookie recipe not specifically because of some insane hankering for maple, but because I was dying for a logical reason to try out some of the coo-worthy cookie cutters that arrived on my doorstep last week. The upholder of Americana that is Ann Clark Ltd. got in touch with me recently, and really, I can’t think of a more adorable family business than hand-crafted cookie cutters that come from Vermont. As I type this, I’m just now realizing the maple-Vermont connection. Interesting that I chose to try out their maple leaf cutter first. Huh! How about that. Further evidence that raising a toddler causes you to operate subconsciously about 75% of the time.

Anyway, shortbread cookies of all sorts are the just the thing for this time of year. Simple to make with ingredients you probably have on hand right this very minute, and the perfect accompaniment to that afternoon mug of tea or coffee that keeps you pushing through the day, even when the day is seemingly turning to night at, like, 3:00 in the afternoon. Also, we’re not fully in holiday baking season just yet, so it might be nice to have a quick little baking project that doesn’t involve the all the production of the more intricate holiday cookie recipes that will be taking over our kitchens before we know it. And in honor of said holiday cookie extravaganzas, the good people from Ann Clark have sent me an adorable Holiday Cookie Cutter gift set to giveaway to one lovely reader! Hooray!

The set includes five big cutters–a star, a snowflake, a Christmas tree, a snowman and a reindeer. That’s a whole lot of cute holiday cookie-making going on!

All you have to do to enter to win is to leave a comment answering this question:

What’s your favorite holiday cookie?

**Contest has ended!**

Comments for the contest will be closed on Thursday, November 19th at 8:00 pm PST. Winner will be chosen at random and announced this Friday, November 20th. Good luck!

Maple-Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

To add some extra maple kick to this recipe, use 1/4 teaspoon maple extract in place of the vanilla, and use some maple sugar flakes (found at natural foods stores) instead of turbinado sugar for sprinkling on the cookies (with more ground pecans) before baking. To simplify the cutting process, shape the dough into two logs (each about 8-9 inches long) instead of a disc, before refrigerating. Slice the logs into rounds about 1/4 inch thick before brushing with the egg and sprinkling on the pecans and sugar mixture.

Makes about 2-3 dozen, depending on size

1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw), for sprinkling
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Begin by finely chopping the pecans in a food processor. Scoop out 1 cup of chopped pecans and place them in a large bowl. Give the remaining 1/2 cup pecans a few extra pulses to grind them even finer. Place these very finely chopped pecans into a small bowl and mix in the turbinado sugar with your fingertips to combine. Set aside.

Into the large bowl with the 1 cup of chopped pecans, sift together the flours and salt and whisk all to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed. Beat in the maple syrup and egg yolk and vanilla until well-blended. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, stopping when the dough just begins to come together and clear the sides of the bowl–better to undermix than overmix here. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, kneading once or twice if necessary to ensure there are no dry pockets and the dough is evenly mixed. Shape into a disc (or logs for slice-and-bake cookies–see note) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 1/2 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and lightly flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thick, and cut into desired shapes, gathering the scraps and rerolling as necessary until nearly all the dough is cut (see note for slice-and-bake cookies). Place the cookies on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush the cookies lightly with the beaten egg and sprinkle generously with the pecan sugar. Bake until lightly golden on the edges and bottoms of the cookies, lifting one slightly to check underneath for doneness, about 12-15 minutes. Rotate the sheets halfway through baking. Cool on the baking sheets for a minute or two before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.

Nov 9, 2009

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

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Recently I got to thinking about some of the most polarizing food subjects. You know, the things that get people talking in a great, spirited love-‘em-or-hate-‘em debate. Cilantro, for starters. Sushi. Gin. Tomatoes. Rachael Ray. You get where I’m going here.

Coconut is definitely on that list, am I right? Its such a complex food that you can’t really be on the fence about it. Its bold flavor, distinct scent and rough, chewy texture puts it in a category of its own. Other things taste like coconut, never the other way around. So if, like my husband, coconut makes you do that shuddery “I’m getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about putting it near my mouth” thing, then I’ll catch you next time. But if you are on Team Coconut, then I hope you’ll try this recipe ASAP, because it makes one of the best dang macaroons I’ve ever had.

Typically, coconut macaroons are among the simplest, quickest cookies to make. Even if you decide to dip them in chocolate, the number of ingredients and steps is under five. The simplest recipes use egg whites, sugar, vanilla and sweetened coconut, and just like that they can be perfectly delicious. But so often, you can end up with something kind of clumsy and chewy and cloyingly sweet and it ends up taking a whole day to eat one, nibbling away at it here and there. Now, there’s really nothing wrong with that, per se, but I love finding recipes that aim to create the perfect version of something, and in doing so make it totally craveworthy and render me completely unable to put the rest away for later, even if I’ve probably already had enough.

This is why I am totally obsessed with the recipes from America’s Test Kitchen. They take stuff that’s already good and somehow find a way to make it even better. Although they rarely provide the simplest way to get there, its so worth it. And maybe I should keep this to myself, but I get the biggest thrill out of having to hunt down a certain ingredient that I’ve never used before. Like the cream of coconut (not to be confused with coconut milk or unsweetened coconut cream) that has a full, round, creamy coconut flavor and makes these macaroons out of this world.

More greatness about the version of this recipe: it uses a mixture of unsweetened coconut and the sweetened variety usually found in the baking aisle, which makes for a much more balanced sweetness in the finished product. Plus the combination of textures of the two kinds of coconut (the unsweetened variety is dry and very finely shredded, unlike coarsely grated and almost wet sweetened coconut) makes the macaroon more like a cookie and less like the center of a candy bar.

The drier mix of coconut and the combination of the cream of coconut and sugar in this recipe create the most fantastic crunchy crust on the bottom of the cookies, a texture you don’t always get with a macaroon. It makes for the most awesome textural element between the chewy coconut and the slick of chocolate on the bottom of the cookie.

When I sent some of these home with a friend, she and her husband thought there was some kind of wafer-like layer involved under the chocolate and made it seem like I’d put waaaay more effort into making these than I actually did. Ha! Awesome. I love when that happens. But then I always end up ruining the glamour by telling people the truth. I should work on that.

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Adapted from Baking Illustrated

Sweetened cream of coconut, often used to make pina coladas and other cocktails, can usually be found in most supermarkets by the booze, canned and under the brand name Coco Lopez. Finding the sweetened coconut is no problem in the baking aisle, but for the unsweetened coconut, you may have to check the Asian foods aisle or a natural foods store. If you have no luck finding the unsweetened coconut, then use all sweetened coconut, but reduce the cream of coconut to 1/2 cup, omit the corn syrup, and add two tablespoons of cake flour to the coconut before adding the wet ingredients.

Makes 4 dozen

1 cup cream of coconut
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 cups sweetened shredded or flaked coconut
10 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)

Place the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper sprayed lightly with cooking spray or silicone baking mats.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla and salt until well-blended. In another large bowl, using your fingertips, toss together the shredded coconuts. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly moistened.

Drop the mixture by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Form the cookies into loose haystacks with your fingertips (moistening your fingers with water will prevent sticking). Bake until the cookies are softly set and golden in spots on top and your can see the bottoms are deeply browned, about 15-17 minutes. Cool on the sheets for about two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Line the baking sheets with fresh parchment paper or wipe the silicone mats clean. When the cookies are completely cool, place about two thirds of the chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl. Melt the chocolate on high power in 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval. Put the remaining third of the chocolate chips into the melted chocolate, stirring again until all the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Holding a macaroon by its pointed top, dip the bottom of the cookie into the chocolate, using a spoon to gently coax the chocolate up the sides a bit if necessary. Place the dipped cookies on the lined baking sheets, and refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Nov 4, 2009

Toblerone Brownies

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My friend Sara has all these wacky-but-completely-lovable traits that you’d really never see coming. She is sunshine personified, this girl–all blonde and loud laughs and positive energy. You’d never think she’s the type to get too hung up on details, based on first impressions. But you would be very, very wrong about that.

For instance, she goes positively bananas for laundry day. Like a micro-sorting-into-categories-of-whites-that-I-didn’t-know-existed-and-serious-opinions-about-detergents-level of interest in laundry. It used to be that I would know not to call her before a certain hour on Thursdays, because I knew it was Sara’s Laundry Day, but if I just had to call her about something and she did happen to pick up, she’d have this very Sara-esque cheery-but-absentminded tone because she’d really rather be ironing and folding her many, many sets of sheets than talking on the phone. But I will say that her meticulous nature with housekeeping duties makes being a house guest at her place one of the loveliest experiences ever.

You’ve also never met someone with so much restraint. Don’t get me wrong–girlfriend knows how to have a good time. A wonderful appetite for life and good food and wine, but when she decides to reel it in, sister goes hard core. I’ve always admired that about her. She doesn’t have a raging sweet tooth like me, so she can be especially good about sweets in strict moderation. I will never forget the time I went to her apartment and saw a huge Toblerone bar sitting on the kitchen table, only a chunk or two gone out of the whole thing, purchased at the movie theater two days before (an obsession with going to the movies alone is another Sara Quirk). I could not wrap my head around how one could have a partially eaten chocolate bar sitting in the same spot for more than a couple of hours, and on top of that, how could she have only eaten a smidgen of it to begin with?! Oh, Sara.

After that, Toblerone bars always remind me of Sara. And although I can say with great certainty that chances are good that she is on some sort of dairy-free-gluten-free-sugar-free dietary experiment as I write this, I’m sure even she would have a hard time resisting one of these fudgy brownies, chunky throughout with hunks of Toblerone pieces and toasty hazelnuts, with an unexpected hit of cinnamon.

This recipe is the first I’ve tried from a cookbook I recently bought on a whim. I had gone to the bookstore only to buy a birthday gift for a friend, nothing more, and reminded myself of that the whole way there. But because I was at the bookstore in rare form–sans toddler and showered, for starters–I lingered for a longer than I should have. I really don’t need another cookbook, I told myself as I traced my fingertips over the spines of so many culinary volumes that I’ve been eyeing as of late. But with latte in hand and no tiny person yanking at my jeans, the spine-tracing turned to back-cover-glancing and then flipping and then skimming and then “Ooh. Well, THAT looks good”, and so forth. And so it would be: The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook is the newest addition to my cookbook collection.

Cheesetastic subject matter aside, the recipes in this book are the sort that you just know have been tested hundreds of times over, in home kitchens by real people all over the place. Cookies and pies and bars and cakes of family and church gathering lore, the kind of baked goods that are named after people known by a certain dishes in their personal circles. Which is all to say that these recipes are uncomplicated, very transportable and not at all precious, sometimes unusual, and totally delightful. I haven’t been so charmed by a cookbook in a really, really long time. And any book that touts a brownie recipe with hunks of Toblerone bar is all right by me.

A word about Toblerone: the wrapper is not child-proof. If you fail to remove it from your child’s pudgy-knuckled grip to avoid a meltdown in the car on the way home, you may arrive home to find that in your back seat sits a little chocolate-smeared face with shining eyes and leech-like suction on one end of the package, which now looks like this:

Toblerone Brownies
Adapted from The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook

I love Ghiradelli chocolates for baking–they’re good quality and easily found in most supermarkets. For the Toblerone, use either the milk chocolate or dark chocolate variety–whatever you like. I like hazelnuts in this recipe, but pecans would also work well, as would almonds to echo the almond nougat bits in the candy bar, but remember to toast them before adding them to the batter for the best flavor. Toast them while you’re putting the rest of the recipe together at the same temperature as the brownies–350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Like most brownies, these keep beautifully in the freezer.

Makes 16

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and chopped
1 Toblerone bar (3.52 ounces), milk or dark chocolate variety, chopped (I cut each triangular hunk into quarters)

Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 inch square pan with aluminum foil to make removing the brownies easier. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place the butter pieces and unsweetened chocolate in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Melt the butter and chocolate together on high power in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each, until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture until well-blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and fold in the dry ingredients by hand. Stir in the nuts and candy pieces.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out nearly dry, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the brownies using the foil sleeve and cut into 16 bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.


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