Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Funfetti Birthday Cupcakes

My good friend Jenn turned the big 30 on Saturday and I helped throw her a combined birthday bash with her super cool friend Stephanie (who's now my friend too). That included, of course, cupcakes of their choice. They choose 4 flavors and this post is about flavor #1: Funfetti. Who said 30 year olds don't like funfetti!

When I made these back in March to celebrate my case settling, Jenn LOVED these, so she wanted them again. You can find the recipe on my blog here. I got the idea and recipe for these from the great Clara of I Heart Cuppycakes. These did me right once and did me right again. Thanks Clara.

As you can see from these photos, I am greatly enjoying my new Nikon AF 50mm 1.8D lense. After getting my new Nikon D40, I took a photography class at a camera store in the city that was recommended by a photographer friend. The class was awesome, and afterwards I was sold on some new camera gear, including this lense and Lightroom by Adobe (which I have ordered but not recieved yet). The professor did say we chose what could be the most expensive hobby!

In conclusion, Clara's funfetti cupcakes rock and are suitable for the children or young at heart in your lives (or anyone really!). Make them!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TWD: Double Chocolate Fix

So, I know this is not really Kosher, and we were just reminded about the TWD rules, but I did make the Four Star Chocolate Pudding on time, just work was so crazy last week I didn't get a chance to post. Then I figured the last thing ya'll wanted was another picture of a chocolate bread pudding (esp. since I was unable to make it look "cute" or whatever). But I did make it - and, yes, I kinda do want "credit," so this week's TWD post is a double-header.

First off, this week's Chocolate Cream Tart chosen by Kim of Scrumptious Photography. Kim has an amazing blog, and is one of the blogs that has gotten me into this photography kick where I just want to learn more and more (and keep buying more and more gear!). You can get the recipe from her blog here. So I went with the chocolate shortbread crust as suggested by Dorie, it was my first time making this crust and it was so easy, especially with my super duper Kitchenaid Food Processor.

I made the custard this evening (last minute Lorelei here), chilled it in the fridge for a few hours, then made my hubby taste a piece on his way out the door to pick up a friend from the airport so I could photograph it and blog about it before it wasn't Tuesday anymore (that's why hubby we couldn't wait till you both returned!). He LOVED it. He got the whipped cream topping on his - I didn't put it on the whole tart because then it doesn't last as long. I did add some caramel sauce on the bottom of the tart before adding the custard, and well, that didn't really work - it squirted all over the place and made a huge mess - so will not win a beauty contest, but does make the tart a little more turtle like. Great tart, thanks Kim.

As most of you know, last week's TWD was Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding chosen by Lauren of Upper Eastside Chronicle. I made this in two disposable 8x8 baking tins so that I could give them away to two recipients, which I did, and used a brioche loaf that I picked up at a French bakery nearby. They were well recieved - after all the good press on this recipe, I am going to have to try this dairy free someday.

Check out the TWD blogroll here to see all the other TWD posts about these great chocolate desserts. Next month we are off the chocolate fixation until the end of the month, phew!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

SMS: Granola Breakfast Cookies

This week's Sweet Melissa recipe was chosen by one of my favorite bloggers, Jessica from A Singleton in the Kitchen. The recipe is Granola Breakfast Cookies, and uses the cherry almond granola recipe in the book (a delicious double whammy). You can get the recipe on Jessica's terrific blog here. Before getting on with my comments on this week's recipe, allow me to introduce you to my SMS mascot - Bumble Bee Eeyore. As explained by the great Elyse in her out of this world post today, SMS grew out of my terrible Sunday blues (while I am nicknamed eeyore, he's in full force on Sundays). So when I saw this Eeyore on ebay, I HAD to have him, right? So perfect. Anyway, you'll be seing more of him in the Sundays to come.

Back to the baking, this week's recipe is a perfect example of why I love baking clubs and this awesome world of baking blogs. Things have been a little a hectic around here, so I was going to use store bought granola, because I didn't know where to get all the ingredients for the granola and had never made it before. But, having read all the comments from the other great SMS bakers, many of whom liked the granola more than the cookies, I thought, this is what the club is all about - doing things I wouldn't ordinarily do.

So, it turned out to be a great Sunday afternoon, making this delicious cherry almond granola (with cranberries, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds). In between all the stirring, I ran back to my computer to catch up on my google reader - almost below 100 now! More about the granola later when its time to post that recipe. But I must say thanks to Wendy of Pinkstripes for her real time assistance with my granola making questions. Wendy is quite the baker and I am so honored she joined SMS, and gave me a little coaching.

The cookies were delicious in my opinion. I love molasses spice cookies alot, so I knew I had to make these dairy free so I could have some. I did add in more spices than just the cinnamon because I love baking spices, so I added ginger, nutmeg and allspice (these were all in the granola too, so I knew it would work well together). The result, a nice chewy molasses spice cookie with crunchy goodness and delicious dried fruit. Since this is a breakfast cookie (made with whole wheat flour), I think it's totally Kosher to eat these for breakfast. That's what I plan on doing this week. Check out the rest of the SMS bakers and the yummy cookies they cooked up here. Thanks Jessica, I think you TOTALLY picked a winner =)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nutella Biscotti

Wow -sometimes life just takes a hold of you and you feel like you are on a high-speed roller coaster and you can't get off. My life went from very peacefully calm to not finding many spare moments. All from good things, being busy at work is good (bad for sleep, good for job security), housing search (um, that is a frightening and overwhelming new world), planning parties (lots of cupcakes to be baked tomorrow). But, my blogging and blog friend duties have suffered - I have over 250 posts in my google reader - I will get to those and comment away, pinky swear.

Anyhow, I have been meaning to post these delicious biscotti for a while, and had this post in draft form for over a week! But here it is. I made these the same night I made the DELISH Honey Beescotti for the Sweet Melissa Baking Group, because you just can't get away with only serving non-chocolate treats to some folks. My mother is a huge fan of biscotti and chocolate, so I wanted to give her something I thought she would really like. Speaking of which, my mom is looking for a recipe (for me to make her) for low calorie chocolate cookies. She sent me one that seemed to be a meringue like cookie, but I threw it out (diet cookies?) not something you think about when you don't have to worry about the calories yourself because you can't eat them and you bake to impress. So, if you know of one (that tastes decent), please send it my way.

So... verdict was these were delicious. And, they went pretty quickly. I didn't try them, but I can recommend making them if you like biscotti, chocolate and nutella.

Nutella Biscotti

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter softened

2/3 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

½ cup Nutella spread at room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 ¾ cups unbleached-all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped skinned toasted hazelnuts

5 ounces good-quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into ¼ inch chunks, or 1 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth and slightly lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the Nutella spread and blend well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (15-20 seconds) and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.

3. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture all at once. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and blend slowly, just until there are no more patches of flour. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

4. Add the hazelnuts and chocolate chips or chunks, and mix on low just until blended. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir gently a few times with the spatula to make sure the nuts and chips are evenly distributed and there are no patches of unincorporated flour or butter.

5. Divide the dough in half. On a work surface lightly dusted with flour, gently squeeze and roll each piece to shape into logs about 13 inches long. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the logs on the sheet about 4 inches apart. Press down on the logs, flattening them slightly until they are each about 2 inches across the top. Place the second baking sheet under the first (to prevent the bottoms of the logs from browning too quickly). Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the logs are firm to the touch and lightly golden brown. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the logs cool completely. (If you attempt to slice them while warm, the chocolate will smear the cookies and look messy).

6. Turn the oven down to 275 degrees and position two racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Carefully transfer the cookie logs to a cutting surface. Using a serrated knife, slice the logs on a slight diagonal into cookies 3/8 inch thick. Line the second baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the cookies, cut side down, on the parchment-lined sheets (you’ll need both sheets to hold all the cookies). Toast the cookies in the oven, switching the sheets between the racks and rotating front to back halfway through, for 30 to 40 minutes, until dry and lightly tinged with color. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Cake Slice: Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

So, I recently joined another baking group (yeah, might be a little excessive at this point, but so much fun!). Thanks to awesome Cassie of How to Eat a Cupcake, I was directed to the powers that be of The Cake Slice who kindly let me join the group. I was thrilled when I learned that the first cake I would get to participate with was the Chai Tea Cake. I LOVE Chai Tea and my husband does as well. So, I set out to make this cake lactose free so I could have it, even though the frosting was a Honey Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting. As you can see from the picture above, non-dairy fake cream cheese does not produce the most attractive frosting in the world - so I'd say these pictures certainly wouldn't win a beauty contest and don't do the cake justice.

The cake was AMAZING though. Sooooo yummy. The cake was moist and light and fluffy. The cardamon flavor really shone through. And while I was a little disappointed by the Tofutti cream cheese substitute taste, my husband thought it tasted just fine in the end. I did have to add extra freshly grated ginger and cardamon to the frosting to mask the weird taste of the Tofutti.

If you want the recipe (and I highly recommend it), you should check out the great book Sky High, or you can get it from Cassie's blog - with the added bonus of cake truffle how to!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

SMS: Caramel Apple Turnovers with Sweet Ricotta Filling

This week's Sweet Melissa recipe was chosen by Tracey of the AMAZING blog, Tracey's Culinary Adventures. You should check out her awesome kitchen adventures and can get this week's recipe for Caramel Apple Turnovers with Sweet Ricotta Filling here.

I was looking forward to this recipe (even though I couldn't try it because as far as I know there is no non-dairy ricotta substitute) because I have never made turnovers before and never worked with puff pastry (I know where have I been?!). I enjoyed making these, but did think it was a bit of work for only 4 turnovers. Since I did quite a lot of baking this weekend, I only baked one of the turnovers to give to my trusty taster and froze the rest before baking as the recipe suggested.

I didn't have time to let the ricotta drain overnight, and since some of my great fellow SMS bakers (you can - and should - check out the blogroll here) did the overnight drill but didn't actually extract any liquid from the ricotta I thought it was OK to skip. What I did instead was put the ricotta in the cheese cloth and then squeezed the liquid out of it - and got a fair amount out. That's about all I did differently (oh and I did not chill the turnover before baking).

I had a little trouble the caramel apples, when I put the apples into the amber sugar and water mixture, the caramel turned to a hard lump. It eventually melted, but it took awhile. I also had a little trouble with the puff pastry, which turned from easy to work with to very elastic and sticky rather quickly. I think next time, I will keep some of the pieces in the freezer while I assemble the others to avoid that problem. So of course, the last turnover (an most "melted" puff pastry square) was the one I ended up baking (and photographing for this post). I am convinced the ones sitting in the freezer would have turned out better photographs!!!

I also just realized while reading Tracey's post about these turnovers that I forgot to cut the steam slits - oh well, they didn't explode! Hubby loved these and gave them an enthusiastic two thumbs up. He didn't really taste the ricotta and was surprised when I told him there was cheese in them - he said the caramel apple was the strongest flavors. Humf! Well, there you have it. Thanks Tracey for picking this recipe and giving me a chance to try out some new skills.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TWD: Amaretti Torte - Better Late Than Never!

OK, I know, this post is a day late. I have a pretty good excuse, I do. OK, here it goes. I was planning on making this torte on Monday, but when I went to the store on my way home from work, they didn’t have any Amaretti cookies. So, I decided to wait until Tuesday so I could get the right cookies, since I live in North Beach, San Francisco (Italian neighborhood in case you don’t know it) and it would be a shame for me to use a substitute. I got the cookies Tuesday morning and went to work planning to squeeze in time to make this 15 minute torte later in the evening.

Well, that wasn’t in the cards baby. I woke up Tuesday morning with a mild back ache (I have a pesky lower back problem so that wasn’t all that much of a shock) and the pain just built more and more all day long. I finally had to leave work early to take medication and ice my back. By late evening, I could barely move and was in too much pain to do anything. I really really wanted to get up and make the torte (because it would make me feel better emotionally), but since I could not stand up straight, I thought that would be a bad idea.

My back was better this morning, but still in pretty bad shape, so I spent most of my day working and resting from my couch. Things are much better this evening (thank goodness) so I gingerly made this EASY quick torte (thankfully this week’s recipe was an easy one – thanks Holly). See – totally valid right?

Enough about me – that was really a lot, sorry – how about this torte. Well, I love almond flavored stuff, and LOVE Disaronno Amaretto. AND – I just recently learned that I do like chocolate after all! What? you say (if you have made it this far) how can anyone not like chocolate? Well, I didn’t for the longest time (and have met others like me, I swear). But last week I tried the most amazing chocolate bar I have ever had (cause I actually ate a LOT, and I won’t tell you what I did with other chocolate tasting experiments). What bar could pull me out of this controversial chocolate boycott? The Dark Orange Bar made by Andrew Shotts of Garrison Confections. My good friend happens to be well connected to Mr. Shotts, and introduced me to this fabulous bar. Not only did I get to try this bar, but I also got an autographed cookbook and may get a private baking lesson (OMG!!!!!!!!!!!).

So, all of that to say that since I recently discovered dark chocolate goodness, I decided to make this week’s TWD cake – Dark Chocolate Amaretti Torte lactose free so I could eat it. To do so, I substituted the butter for margarine, and cream for soy creamer. And, IT WORKED! Oh baby it did. The cake was soooo yummy, and you could really taste the amaretti. And the glaze turned out really well, nice and smooth, and nice and velvety and rich. Since soy creamer is already sweet and more watered down than regular cream, I added only one tablespoon of sugar (instead of 2) and only one tablespoon of water (and replaced the second one with a tablespoon of soy creamer). It worked, my trusty taster husband is back and he said: AWESOME! I am so glad I made this, and will be making this again for sheezy.

Thanks Holly of PheMOMenon for choosing this delicious recipe. You can find the recipe on her amazing blog here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

SMS: Brooklyn Brownout Cake

This week's sweet for the Sweet Melissa Sunday group was the Brooklyn Brownout Cake chosen by the amazing person/blogger Elyse of Elyse's Confectionary Creations. You can find the recipe for this chocolate lover's dream cake here.

I was super happy that Elyse chose this cake for this week. I had plans to go to Bass Lake, near Yosemite, with my good friend Jen for Easter weekend (my last weekend sans hubby who comes home on Tuesday - hercules, hercules [clap, clap]). Jen's super cool parents (Big Dave and Barbara) have a nice big and cozy house near the lake and kindly allowed Jen to take me up there for the weekend. Jen is my super reliable sweet taster and she sure knows her sweets. She also told me that Big Dave loves his sweets too and would be more than happy to taste a chocolate cake. She was right!

So, Elyse's selection was a perfect way for me to say thank you for Jen and her family's hospitality (Thanks Elyse). I decided to bake the cake up there with Jen instead of making it before hand. Jen and Barbara kindly allowed me to take over (and make a mess) in the kitchen and help me (OK do all) of the clean-up. Sweet deal right? Now, I am a pretty anal baker, and generally prefer to bake in my own kitchen - as small as it is - because then I have COMPLETE control and reign supreme. So, there was a little bit of tension when I snapped at Jen's husband for trying to eat some of the perfectly measured 12 oz of dark chocolate for the ganache! I am sure they thought I was being a tad overboard, and I was (kinda), and they didn't really buy my "baking is a science" explanation to my outburst. Jen's husband also really wanted to eat the brownies I brought for the filling/topping, but Jen managed to disuade him by telling him they were frozen. Luckily, the amount of chocolate they got to eat with the finished produced made up for my in-progress stinginess!

Brownies you say? That's right, this cake called for a tripple threat of chocolate. A dense chocolate cake (that seemed more brownie like than devil's food like), brownies, and a dark chocolate ganache. The recipe calls for four brownies and the book suggests making ahead of time for another purpose and saving 4 in the freezer to make this cake (which I did). The brownies are then crumbled (along with the cake layer scraps after leveling) and mixed with the ganache to form the filling in between the layers. And if that wasn't enough, I felt I had to give the cake a little Easter flare, so I decorated the top with the brownie crumble (per the recipe) and Reese's chocolate peanut butter eggs. Chocolate overload. As you can see from the photos, I chose not to try and put the brownie crumble around the edges of the cake to keep the cake looking elegant and sleek (I didn't like how my TWD cake with crumble on the sides turned out).

The verdict? Jen and her family loved it. Big Dave happily ate a huge piece, and sucessfuly lobbied to have the left over cake stay behind. He also said I could come back and visit anytime! Jen said it was super rich (so much so it could kill a small dog) but that it was super yummy. A success. The cake does take some foresight (making the brownies ahead of time) and melting A LOT of chocolate. This is not for the weak of heart, but could capture the hearts of your serious chocolate lovers. Can't wait for next week. Check out how the other Sweet Melissa Sunday bakers did here. And thank you Jen, Brian, Big Dave and Barbara for the great weekend.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Me Cupcakes

So, I was having a major Eeyore day yesterday. I had to go back to work after a lovely long weekend with my family, my family left to go back to LA, and my husband is not coming home for another whole week (I am beginning to forget who he is … Just kidding hubby, but seriously, three weeks is FOREVER).

So, I was majorly in need of a baking session to cheer me up. And, because I was feeling like such a sourpuss, I decided to make something that I wanted that I could eat. I was inspired by a snack I made for myself this weekend that really took me back to my childhood – honey and peanut butter sandwiches. I used to get these for my sandwiches sometimes, and boy did I love them. So, I decided to make lactose free honey & peanut mini cupcakes (lactose free).

I did a Google search before setting out on this project and was quickly reminded of Peabody’s delicious looking Honey Cupcakes. I decided to use her recipe for the honey cupcakes (since she is such an amazing baker and blogger) and my standard peanut butter frosting – Kathleen’s Peanut Butter Frosting from Ina Garten (and make it lactose free). I tasted one of the little cakes before frosting and they were nice and moist (and dense) and had a hint of honey. I had a little trouble making the peanut butter frosting lactose free because the soy creamer I used did not do a good stand in for the regular cream (so it was too liquid). I had to add more powdered sugar to make it the right consistency and even then, it was not as smooth and pretty as the dairy version. It still tasted great though.

I really wanted the honey flavor to come through, so even though it made these SUPER sticky, I drizzled them with honey and topped with easter inspired sprinkles. This morning, when I woke up to try them, the honey had soaked into the peanut butter frosting (and dripped all over the place). So, these are heavy on the peanut butter flavor and the honey is a subtle flavor. I love them - sweet white cupcake with creamy peanut butter frosting - yum (but, a little worried about what work will think, but can't keep 40+ mini cupcakes here). You DEFINATELY need some milk or coffee with these!

Honey Cupcakes

[Culinary Concoctions by Peabody]

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup creamed honey
¾ cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 cups self rising flour

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and honey. Beat for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, scrape down sides after blended. Add in vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds.

Starting with the flour first, alternate between flour and milk, ending with flour. So 1/3 of flour, ½ of milk, 1/3 of flour, ½ milk, 1/3 flour. Blend until fully combined.

Fill cupcake pan (with or without liners) 2/3 of the way full with batter. Fill until all batter is used.

Bake for 20-22 minutes (for regular cupcakes, about 16 minutes for mini cupcakes).

Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes in pan. Then remove from pan and place on a wire rack to finish cooling. Cool completely before frosting.

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays - Honey Beescotti

The first post of the Sweet Melissa Sunday Baking Group! First I want to thank all my fellow SMS bakers - thanks so much for baking with me! Thank you Elyse for the numerous shout-outs, you ROCK! The inagural week started with Honey Beescotti (recipe below). Please check what the other talented SMS bakers made by clicking over to the SMS blogroll here.

These appealed to me because they had unusual ingredients - candied orange peel and caraway seeds, and because my parents are coming to visit today and they love biscotti. Unfortunately, there are not many left! (Guess I am going to have to make them again - and will do so gladly). These were DELICIOUS in my opinion. And, yes, I know because I made them lactose free buy subsituting the butter for lactose free margarine.

So, the recipe called for candied orange peel, and strongly encouraged people not to leave them out because of how amazing they are in this biscotti recipe (no - the book did not say amazing, I am paraphrasing loosely here!). The book suggested buying the peel - but I wasn't sure where I could find it so I took a quick spin on trusy google, and found some great step-by-step instructions and inticing photos and decided to try making it myself for the first time. Check out my roundup of several recipes here.

Candied orange peel is so easy to make. It does take a little work to get the peels ready - but you get to enjoy some fresh squeezed orange juice as your reward. And after that, it is just a matter of watching several pots of boiling watter. Super easy. I tasted the peels a little bit after I set them out on the rack to dry, and thought they tasted a little too much like orange peel for my taste. I was a little disappointed - somehow I thought they would magically transform into orange candy that did not taste like an orange rind. Well, I gave these little peels another shot the next morning - and I must say once they harden and mellow, they are REALLY yummy. The rind taste was no longer overpowering. Yay!

So, armed with my very own homemade candied orange peel and my other ingredients, I went over to a good friend's house on Friday night to make dinner and biscotti. We had a blast (thanks Jaci and Ashley). I had the benefit of the comments from my fellow Sweet Melissa bakers (thank you thank you) and so I knew the dough for the beescotti was going to be SUPER sticky - and yes, it really was. I ended up using A LOT of flour to be able to shape the dough into the logs you see below. And if you look closely, you can see the spatula I had to use to get the dough off the parchment paper (after the refrigeration time) in order to form these logs - super sticky. I wonder if added 1/4 cup of flour to the dough would help? Maybe next time.

I didn't experience the spreading problem like some of my fellow bakers did. I did make sure they were nice and chilled before baking, and maybe that's the reason why.

I also did not bake them the second time brown side down, but on their sides, flipping them over halfway through the second bake time. I think I had done this before, and wanted a nice crisp, but can't be too certain why I chose to ignore the instructions!

The finished product was DELICIOUS. I really liked the subtle almond flavor. I can't really taste any honey flavor. And I love the combination of the candied orange peel and caraway seeds. Anise flavored biscotti is generally my favorite. I do think the the candied orange peel amount could be increased, because there is only a bite or two in each biscotti. But if you are not a huge fan of orange flavored things (as I thought I was before trying these - honestly) then the amount in the recipe is good for the occasional zing.

Thanks again to my fellow bakers. I feel so lucky to have such incredible bakers and bloggers to bake along with and learn from. And if you want to join our little baking group, please check out the Sweet Melissa Sundays Blog.

Honey Beescotti

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons chestnut honey (or any flavor, including clover)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped candied orange peel
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
½ cup whole natural almonds, coarsely chopped

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, honey, and salt until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract and mix until combined. Add the candied orange peel and beat on high speed for 20 seconds.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and caraway seeds.

3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the almonds.

4. Turn the dough out onto prepared cookie sheet, flatten, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

5. On a lightly floured board, divide the dough in half. Using a little extra flour if the dough feels sticky, roll each half into a log about 14 inches long. Refrigerate the logs until firm, about 30 minutes.

6. Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the cookie sheet with clean parchment paper.

7. Place the logs 4 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden and slightly firm. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Turn down the oven to 275 degrees.

8. As soon as the logs are cool enough to handle but still warm, about 10 minutes, carefully peel them off the parchment paper and transfer to a cutting board. Using a serrated bread knife, gently score the logs at ¾ inch intervals on a 45 degree angle. After scoring, cut through each scored line in one motion with a sharp chef’s knife, slicing the logs into pieces.

9. Carefully transfer the cookies to a freshly lined cookie sheet browned side down and not touching one another. Bake for an additional 25 minutes, rotate the pan and continue to bake for another 20 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool on the pan to room temperature.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Oatmeal Carmelita Bars

So, I just recently discovered my nearby public library - my mother would be so proud - I don't know anyone who is not a librarian who spends more time in the library. I had the most amazing Saturday - a normal person Saturday with no work, no guilt about the work I should be doing and no dread for the work that must get done the next day! A whole weekend off = priceless! Anyhow, someone like me is not normally out during normal library hours - but this Saturday I was and I popped in to see what they had.

I have to tell you it was an epiphany. All these cookbooks that I can take home and test drive? Love it! You can be a lot more experimental when you don't have to pay for it (and justify yet ANOTHER baking book). So I picked up The Best of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Cookies and Bars. This is a kick ass book. And I never would have bought it - but now I think I will (oops, the library may end up feeding the cookbook habit!).

I decided to make these Oatmeal Carmelitas because I had some extra caramel and they looked delicious and gift worthy. They were SUPER easy to make. I ran out of chocolate chips, but since I always have lots of bars around (I stock up when they are on sale) I made some milk-chocolate chunks. And for the nuts I chopped up some of my dwindling Costco mixed party nuts - I wanted to use salted nuts because I know that salted caramel is such a big hit. The verdict - they went like hot cakes at work and people (ok a few friends) raved about them. One partner said that I was getting too good at the baking thing and that it started to make him worry and one friend said something like -"oh my god @#$& why do you insist on ruining my diet with all this fattening food.... yum, hmmn, wow!" Your caramel fans will love these.

Oatmeal Carmelitas

-Best of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Cookies and Bars

2 cups AP flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 ½ cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups butter or margarine, room temperature

1 jar caramel topping (1 cup)
3 tablespoons AP flour
1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
½ cup chopped nuts (salted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 13x9-inch pan with tin foil and leave some hanging over the edge. Grease tin foil with butter or cooking spray.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or another bowl with hand mixer) mix together the butter and brown sugar until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until crumbly (do not over-mix or you will have a dough rather than crumbs).

Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press other half into bottom of pan and bake 10 minutes.

In a small bowl mix caramel topping and 3 tablespoons of flour.

When crust is done partially baking, sprinkle with chocolate chips or chunks and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.

Bake 18-22 minutes longer until top is golden brown. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack, about 1 hour. Refrigerate until filling is set, 1-2 hours. Cut into bars.