Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Favorite Cookies

Cookies are my favorite food group. I have never met a cookie I didn't like but have never had a favorite until fairly recently.

And the winner is.... [drumroll]


I never thought a chocolate chip cookie would win my heart--I thought something more exotic & cutting edge would eventually beat out all the others--but, alas, I've fallen prey to the classic. The classic done EXTREMELY well--actually, it is pretty cutting edge with the yummy brown butter & all the toasted goodness!

I have baked up countless batches of chocolate chip cookies--ever on the hunt for the perfect recipe. None were bad but none left me with the feeling that I'd found the best. Until I found this one.

Allow me to introduce you to the creator of this recipe, Laura Flowers: culinary genius and food blogger extradinairre. (That should be the title of her biography--LOL!) Every week she posts new recipes--most of them her own--for everything from cookies to pizza (those are my favorite) to salads & pasta dishes. I have tried several and have yet to be disappointed. And I'm eternally grateful to her for bringing the torture of my endless search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie to an end!

Today I made them for Laura's "Project Cookie" and mailed them to her friend Ted & his platoon in Iraq (if you are interested in participating, click here for more info). Well, I mailed most of them (minus the usual dozen I can't keep from eating every time I make them!)

What this recipe taught me:

*Browning half the butter adds a subtle, unique & delicious flavor and leaving the other half alone helps the cookie's texture.
*Toasting the nuts heightens their flavor.
*Using a small amount of vinegar doesn't change the flavor but aids in producing a softer cookie.
*Toasting & grinding oats & using them in place of some of the flour also aids in bringing the flavor and texture to a new level.

OK, so are you ready for the recipe or what?!

Laura's Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft to the touch
3/4 cups fresh light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon real vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar (You won’t taste it, I promise.)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups good quality all purpose flour
1 cup walnuts (Optional, but refer to notes for flour & chocolate changes.)
¾ of a 12 ounce package Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (I just use a full bag of whatever kind I have--I know, I'm a heathen!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a nonstick skillet melt 1 stick of the butter over medium heat until foamy and lightly golden brown. Pour into a bowl and wipe out the skillet.

3. In the skillet over medium heat, toast the oatmeal stirring often until fragrant and some of the oatmeal is light golden in color. About 3 minutes. Transfer the oatmeal to a food processer and grind until fine and powdery. Set aside.

4. Spread the walnuts onto a plate and microwave in 30 second increments 2 or 3 times until toasted, stirring in-between. Let the walnuts cool slightly, and chop to desired size.

5. Mix in a stand mixer the softened butter, browned butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and vinegar into the and beat on slow to combine, and then on high speed until fluffy and lighter in color.

6. Add the eggs and mix until combined. Add the oatmeal and baking soda and beat for another minute. Next, add the flour half at a time and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

7. Add the chocolate chips and toasted walnuts. Mix on low until incorporated.

8. With a size 50 cookie scoop or a generous tablespoon, drop the dough onto parchment paper 3 inches apart.

9. Bake for 11 minutes or until golden around the edges. Remove from oven and let set on the cookie sheet for 3 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Makes about 45 cookies.

1. If omitting nuts, add ¼ cup more flour to the batter and the whole bag of chocolate chips.
2. Cookies are best baked shortly after mixing the batter together. There is no need to refrigerate the dough.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nutty Toffee Popcorn

Although I have an overabundance of saved recipes that I have yet to try, I still couldn't resist purchasing Taste of Home's "Bake Sale 2009" magazine when I spotted it on the shelf at the grocery store. I want to make everything in the book (it doesn't hurt that pictures accompany each recipe!), but this is the first thing I've tried.

It is really hard for me to stick to a recipe exactly, and this one is no exception. Come on, a recipe with toffee in the title and none in the recipe? That had to be fixed! So here's my version.

Nutty Toffee Popcorn
Adapted from Glenna Hale's recipe in Taste of Home's Bake Sale 2009

½ cup popcorn kernels
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup whole almonds (I used roasted & salted)
1 c butter
2 c packed brown sugar
½ c light corn syrup
½ t cream of tartar
½ t baking soda
½ t rum extract
½ cup toffee bits (like Heath baking bits)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Pop kernels (I use an air popper) and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle the nuts over the top of the popped popcorn and set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the brown sugar, corn syrup and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil, without stirring, for five minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, you can clamp it to the side of the and wait until the mixture reaches 300 degrees F).

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda & rum extract until mixture is light and foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn mixture & stir to coat well. Bake in a large roaster pan or two jelly roll pans for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. The last time you stir, when only 15 minutes remain, sprinkle the toffee over the top, stir and return to the oven.

When it has baked an hour, lay sheets of waxed paper on the counter and spread the popcorn over it to dry, breaking up the pieces with a spoon as you spread it out. Once it has cooled, store in an airtight container. I usually just put mine into gallon-sized Ziploc bags. In this case, I only needed one b/c only half the popcorn survived to the packaging stage!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tunnel of Fudge Cake

This is an old recipe--a Pillsbury Bake-Off winner from 1966! As the cake bakes, it mysteriously develops a "tunnel of fudge" filling. This is the first time Dennis & I have tried it and we both agree with the 1966 Bake-Off judges--it's a winner!

Originally a Pillsbury fudge frosting mix was stirred into the batter but when that product was discontinued, Pillsbury updated the recipe (with powdered sugar & cocoa to replace the mix) so that we could continue to enjoy this timeless classic.

Tunnel of Fudge Cake
Don't scrimp on the nuts or it won't work!

1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups butter, room temperature
6 eggs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups chopped walnuts

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
4-6 teaspoons milk

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy--about five minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar; blend well. By hand, stir in flour and remaining cake ingredients until well blended. Spoon batter into greased and floured pan; spread evenly.

Bake at 350°F. for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is set and edges are beginning to pull away from sides of pan (don't bother testing for doneness as the fudgy tunnel will leave a wet toothpick even when the cake is done). Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 1/2 hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.

In small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients, adding enough milk for desired drizzling consistency. Spoon over top of cake, allowing some to run down sides. Store tightly covered.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lemony Orange Cake

We recently celebrated my Dad's 61st birthday and I meant to only provide a Better Than Banoffee Pie (a wonderful recipe courtesy of Kitchen Bitch), but I've been in an experimental baking mode lately and we ended up having a dessert-athon with three cakes in addition to the pie...all for only 8 guests!

The surprise favorite turned out to be this Lemony Orange Cake. It is heavier than a regular cake, but lighter than a pound cake and extremely moist with a wonderful orange glaze that locks in the moisture. The citrus flavors make it the perfect summer treat.

Lemony Orange Cake

1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3 ounce) package instant lemon pudding mix
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract

1/3 cup orange juice
2/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup butter

Grease & flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

In a large bowl, stir together cake mix and pudding mix. Pour in the 3/4 cup orange juice, oil, eggs and lemon extract. Beat on low speed until blended. Scrape bowl, and beat 4 minutes on medium speed. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Once it's cool, fit the Bundt pan back over the cake and flip it over so the cake is back in the pan. In a saucepan over medium heat, cook 1/3 cup orange juice, sugar and butter until it comes to a boil and continue to boil for two minutes. Pour the glaze over the bottom of the cake and use a spatula to spread to the sides so that it drips down evenly on all sides and on the inside circle. You don't want all the glaze sitting on top, you want it to drip down so it can soak into the cake evenly. Allow to soak for 10 minutes, then place a serving plate on top of the pan & flip it over so that the cake comes out on the plate. Glaze will dry so that the cake can be covered with plastic wrap until serving. If made more than two days in advance, store in the fridge. Don't worry--it will stay moist even if made several days ahead!