Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies

Since we are on an almond/cherry kick this week, I'll continue with some Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies.  This recipe comes from Loaves and Stitches, which is another crafting/baking blog that I enjoy.  When she posted this recipe, I printed it immediately because I knew I would have to make these!  The cookies are nice and soft and chocolatey and then the dried tart cherries give you a delicious zing in your mouth!  Mmm.  Add in the bits of crunch from the almonds and you have one delicious cookie!

Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies
adapted from Loaves and Stitches
makes about 3 dozen cookies
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 TB kirsch, cherry juice, rum, or water
1 cup light brown sugar
12 TB unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 TB sour cherry jam (I left this out, unfortunately couldn't find any, and substituted some concentrated sour cherry juice instead)
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/4 cups dark chocolate, chopped into bits, or chocolate chips
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Center your oven rack and preheat the oven to 350F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the dried cherries and kirsch/cherry juice/rum/water in a bowl.  Since my cherry juice was concentrated and a thick syrupy liquid, I also added in a TB water.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 45-60 minutes or until the liquid boils.  Remove from the microwave (caution - it is HOT) and give the bowl a little shake before letting it cool to room temperature.  Keep the plastic wrap over the cherries as it cools. 

Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the cherry jam, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.  Mix until evenly distributed.

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl.  Add all at once to the butter mixture and mix on low speed  until almost completely incorporated.  Add the chocolate, almonds and macerated cherries (make sure these are cool when you add them or they'll melt the dough!).  Mix just until evenly distributed.

Scoop the dough into large tablespoon-sized balls and place them 2-3 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  Press the balls down lightly with moistened hands, until they are about 1/2-inch thick.  Bake one pan at a time for 12-15 minutes.  The cookies should be firm around the edges but soft in the middle.  Cool on the pans. 

For some spur-of-the-moment cookies, you can freeze these and bake them as you get a desire for fresh cookies!  To do this, scoop out the dough onto the baking sheets as described above, but space them as close together as you want for now.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and press lightly to ensure that all of the balls are pressed into 1/2-inch disks.  Freeze the pan for 1-2 hours.  Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and store in freezer for up to 6 months.  When ready to bake, follow the instructions above for spacing and add a few minutes to the baking time. 
Printable Recipe

This was a fantastic change from the typical chocolate-chip cookies that you will often find at our house.  They are luxurious tasting, with that beautiful combination of chocolate, almond and tart cherry.  What could be wrong with that?  NOTHING!  Mmmm. And the idea of freezing some to have a nice warm cookie whenever you want some?  That is nothing short of brilliant! I will be doing this with cookie dough from now on!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sister!

My sister came to visit for her birthday!  Yippee!  She lives in Kansas City which is WAY too far from Houston for us to see each other as much as we would prefer.  Which would probably be about once a week at least, if we had our druthers!  Phooey.  So when I found a great sale on flights, I jumped at them!  An opportunity for us to spend her birthday together?  SOLD! 

One of my sister's favorite flavors is almond, so we picked a couple of recipes to put together for her birthday dinner celebration...  Almond Cake with Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream!  YUM.  The cake recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis.  While it was super tasty, it was a bit dry... maybe I could have cooked it a tad less.  The top was golden and the cake was pulling away from the sides of the pan, as the recipe suggests, but I thought it needed a little something.  If you were to make JUST the cake recipe, I would poke some holes in the top of the cake and drizzle over some sort of glaze when the cake came out of the oven.  A powdered sugar/milk/amaretto glaze would be quite tasty... 

However, the day after actually celebrating my sister's birthday, I had another slice of cake and drizzled the candied cherry sauce from the ice cream recipe over the top.  PERFECTION!  Why didn't I think of that for the birthday night?  Ugh.  Yum, yum, yum.

The ice cream recipe comes from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  Zowie.  That book has yet to steer me wrong!  This ice cream was SO good.  It was so creamy and the flavors were spot on.  Mmmmm. 

Are you ready for the recipes?  Here you go:

Almond Cake
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal (I whizzed my stone ground cornmeal in the food processor to get it "fine", which seemed to work!)
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup almond paste, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, plus more to dust cake if desired
4 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream

Place a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 350F.  Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.

Whisk the cornmeal, flour and baking powder together in a medium bowl.  Beat the butter and almond paste together on high speed with an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until smooth.  This will take approximately 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla extract. Slowly add the powdered sugar.  If the sugar is puffing up in clouds around your mixer, add the sugar slower and drape a tea-towel over the top of your mixer to help keep the sugar in the bowl and your kitchen safe from pesky white sugar dust.  Mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Increase the mixer speed to high and add the egg yolks and eggs, one at a time.  Reduce the speed to medium and add the sour cream and flour/cornmeal mixture.  Mix only until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  Bake for 35 minutes, or until cake is golden on top and pulls away from the sides of the pan.  Transfer (in pan) to a rack to cool.  Remove from pan and dust with powdered sugar if desired.  Drizzle with some sort of glaze or candied cherry sauce before serving.
Printable Recipe

Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
5 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup Candied Cherries, coarsely chopped (recipe follows) (I used about 1/2 cup)

Warm the milk, sugar, salt, and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan.  Finely chop 1 cup of the almonds and add them to the warm milk.  Cover the pan, remove from heat, and let steep at room temperature for at least one hour.

Strain the almond-infused milk into a different medium saucepan.  Press the almonds with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to extract as much flavor as possible.  Discard the soaked almonds.

Reheat the almond-infused milk.  Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl.  Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, and then pour this mixture back into the saucepan.  Stir this mixture over medium heat with a rubber heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom of the saucepan as you stir, until the mixture thickens and  heats to 170-175F.  The mixture should coat the back of the spatula.

Pour the remaining cup of heavy cream into a large bowl sitting in an ice bath,and set a mesh strainer on top.  Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.  Add the almond extract and stir until cool.  Refrigerate the mixture until completely cool, overnight if possible.  Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's  instructions.  Once the ice cream is finished churning, fold in the remaining 1 cup of chopped almonds and the chopped cherries.  Freeze to desired consistency.

Candied Cherries
makes 2 cups

1 pound cherries, fresh or frozen, stemmed and pitted
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 drop almond extract

Heat the cherries, water, sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepan until the liquid starts to boil.  Reduce the heat to a low boil and cook the cherries for at least 25 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the cherries cook evenly and do not stick.  The liquid will reduce to a light syrup consistency.  The syrup will become thicker after refrigeration.  Remove from the heat, add the almond extract, and allow to cool completely.  Drain the cherries for about an hour before chopping for use, reserving the syrup for other uses (like drizzling over almond cake!).  NOTE: I did not drain the cherries for an hour before chopping, I just took them out of the syrup, squeezing out as much syrup as I could before chopping and adding to the Toasted Almond ice cream. 
Printable Recipe

My sister loved her birthday cake and ice cream!  It was a delicious treat!  If you enjoy almond flavor too, give these recipes a try!  They are worth it!  Mmmm.....

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cream Scones

It was a Saturday morning, and we were out of buttermilk.  In my home, this is a real travesty!  That means no pancakes or waffles for breakfast!  Yes, I know I can make a buttermilk substitution with milk and vinegar/lemon juice, it just isn't the same when it comes to pancakes.  Breakfast was quickly becoming a gigantic dilemma when I recalled that I had once clipped a recipe for scones made with heavy cream.  And by golly, I had cream in the refrigerator!  Breakfast was saved!  Phew.

I whipped up a batch of cream scones and made some poached eggs to go with them (my first time ever, what a delight!!!) and the day got off to a good start!  These cream scones are totally divine, I have to admit.  They are delicate and flaky and not too sweet but just sweet enough, mmmmm.  They are marvelous.  Now I am not sure which my favorite scone recipe might be, this one, or my traditional buttermilk scone recipe!  I might just have to do a taste test....

Cream Scones
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
makes 8 scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 TB baking powder
3 TB sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 TB cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup currents or other chopped dried fruit (I used tart cherries!)
1 cup heavy cream

Move your oven rack to the center, and preheat the oven to 425F.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  You could also do this in a food processor with a steel blade, if you want.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives, working until the mixture looks like coarse meal, with all butter lumps no larger than pea-sized.  Stir in the dried fruit.  If using the food processor, distribute the butter over the flour mixture pulse 10-12 times.   Add the dried fruit and pulse one time.  Transfer the dough to a large bowl if it was in the food processor.

Stir in the heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork, until the mixture begins to look like dough.  This takes about 30 seconds.   Don't stir too much!  It just needs to barely come together.

Transfer the dough and all of the floury-bits from the bowl onto the counter or a piece of parchment and knead JUST until the dough comes together a bit more, 5-10 seconds.  If there are still some pieces left out, no big deal, it will all come together in the next step.

Press the dough into an 8-inch cake pan (this is what helps those extra random pieces get into your dough) and then turn it out again onto a piece of lightly floured parchment or other surface.  Cut into 8 wedges with a sharp knife or a bench scraper.  You could also just pat the dough into a circle approximately 8 inches in diameter and the cut out the wedges.  Place the wedges onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until the tops are golden.  Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes.  Serve while warm. 
Printable Recipe

Thank goodness we were out of buttermilk!  It gave me the impetus to try these scones, which are downright amazing.  I HIGHLY recommend that you whip up a bunch, right about now! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - French Bread

Do you see that beautiful basket of bread??  I baked it!!  I really did!  I can hardly believe it.  I really, really wanted to succeed with this week's Tuesday with Dorie recipe, making French Bread, and I did!  Yahoo!

We are all friends here so I will be completely honest.  This recipe scared me.  I just had this idea that there was no way that I was going to be able to accomplish baking a batard or baguette.  Especially not in Houston.  Humid climates are not helpful in bread baking, so that was a major strike against me.  But I beat the odds, I guess.  You never know what you can do until you try, do you?  Can you tell I did the happy dance all over the kitchen when they came out of the oven?  And AGAIN when I tasted one?  Ahhh.  Delicious freshly baked bread.  Is there ANYTHING more wonderful???

I am not going to go step by step through this recipe, because let me tell you, there were lots of steps.  However, at the same time, it wasn't totally overwhelming.  I mean, I was able to complete the last part while making dinner AND helping the clever girl with her homework (homework, in first grade!!) AND attempting to keep the clever boy from opening up my flour container and shaking it all over the floor handful by handful (his new totally favorite thing to do, ugh).  And it turned out well!  So, if my totally multi-tasking self could accomplish this bread, YOU CAN TOO!

A couple of things about this recipe:
  • It calls for 0.6 ounces of fresh yeast.  I have never found that in the grocery store and substituted 2.5 teaspoons of instant yeast instead.  This amount was determined after checking many conversions online that mostly agreed.
  • You can make this bread by hand, in which case you have to knead the dough for 10-15 minutes with your big muscley-muscles, or make it in your heavy-duty stand mixer.  I opted to use the mixer.  That was what I initially thought and then when I watched the video and saw that Danielle Forestier kneaded and turned the bread over 800 times, my inclination for the stand mixer was confirmed.  There is no way my current multi-tasking brain would be able to manage 800 turns.
  • There are specific times given for different steps for this recipe.  I underlined each of them in my book so I wouldn't miss them.
  • I found the video quite helpful for shaping the batards.  Unfortunately, I started shaping the first one and then started watching the video, so the outside of that loaf got a bit dry.  You can tell if you look closely at the sort of bumpier looking loaf that I tried to hide a bit in the basket above.  However blemished this loaf was on the outside, it was still delicious.  You can't judge a book by it's cover!
One other thing...  This recipe has you create a shaped cloth for resting your shaped batards/baguettes (a batard is a shorter, wider baguette).  Then you have to get the shaped dough off of the cloth and onto the preheated baking stone very quickly without losing the shape of the dough.  Instead of doing that, I rolled up 4 tea-towels into tubes and placed them in a row with spaces inbetween for the batards.  Then I laid a piece of parchment over those towel rolls, and placed the dough between each roll, on the parchment.  When I was ready to bake, I turned them all over and slit them with a sharp knife.  Then, I slid the towels out from under the parchment and moved the batards a little closer together, so they would fit on my baking stone.  I slid my bakers peel under the parchment, carried it to the oven, and slid the parchment onto the stone.  The bread baked on the parchment on the stone.  I could have opened the oven and slid out the parchment after about 10 minutes of baking, but I forgot.  This would theoretically given me a better crust on the bottom, but honestly the bottom crust turned out great so I don't think I missed anything.  I hope this explanation makes sense.  I was not confident that I would be able to get the batards onto the stone quickly while maintaining their shape (the biggest problem - I find that the bread shape often gets a bit wonky at this point).  This method worked well!

Oh, and the taste?  Yum.  The bread had a great crust on the outside and was soft and airy on the inside.  The flavor was great, like most baguettes I have eaten out.  Are you  up for a challenge?  Give this recipe a try.  The recipe and video give great explanations, and I believe you will find success!  The IDEA of this bread is scarier than the reality.  You can find the recipe on pages 123-127 of Baking with Julia, or here

Truly, the feeling of accomplishment and success is worth the work of this recipe!  Yeah, me!  Now it's your turn!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Texas Lovin'

A good friend of ours is moving away.  BOO!  And in the midst of dealing with the fact that her husband already had to move to start his new job while she is parenting their three kids and having their house on the market, her youngest love had his first birthday.  The girl has enough on her plate! So when she asked if I would mind making a cake for his birthday party/going away party, of course I told her to just leave it to me.  She wanted a "Texas" theme, since they are moving away from here (WAH!) to New Jersey.  Then she emailed me photos of cakes she had seen online that she particularly liked and I got very scared.  VERY.  We were talking multi-tiered cakes with all sorts of fancy Texas decorations!  Yikes.  Oh, and did I mention that this little baby-love is highly allergic to eggs?  As is his brother?  Yeah.  So this needed to be a super fancy EGGLESS tiered cake.  Ummmm.  Yes, of course I can do that!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Poinsettia Christmas Tree Skirt

Yes, I know, it is September and Christmas isn't for another couple of months.  I promise you, I am not one who starts decorating for the holidays this early!  (Though a week or so ago I did see someone in my neighborhood with a Christmas wreath on their window... could they have already decorated?  Or is it still up from next year??  Yikes.)  Anyway, I am posting this now because if you get the motivation to make this beautiful tree skirt for your house, you'll want a head start!

I got the idea last November when I realized that since our new house has really tall ceilings, I can have a really tall tree, thus my beautiful hand-knit tree skirt would look woefully inadequate.  I "obviously" needed to make something new, so I trolled Google to find something that caught my interest.  I landed upon this, which got my wheels-a-turnin'.  I decided to use my favorite new home decor fabric, painters drop cloth (from your closest hardware store).  It comes in pretty big pieces, and I did not want a seam in my skirt.  And I chose to do mostly off-white poinsettias, with a few dark red ones thrown in for interest.  I have to say, I LOVE how it turned out.  This is not a hard project, however depending on the size of your skirt, it can be a bit of a time-consuming one. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes

Our recipe this week for Tuesday's with Dorie is Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes.  It is really perfect timing, as the plums I have been purchasing lately have been delicious!  I love when things work out that way!

These little baby cakes are amazingly easy.  And what I  mean by that is they truly take no time to put together!  Before you know it, you are cleaned up and waiting for the little cutie pies to get out of the oven!  The full recipe makes 12 cakes, but I don't actually need to have 12 yummy little cakes in my house.  That is a BAD idea.  So I thought I'd be smart about this one and halve the recipe.  Yeah, me!  These cakes are baked in individual custard cups.  I halved the recipe, so I only made 6 little cakes, instead of 12.  I only  had 3 of the right size so I also used 3 smaller ramekins, which seemed to work!  Phew.  I had worries about the batter overflowing all over the place (hence the parchment lining the sheet pan) but it didn't happen!  In fact, I sort of like how the cakes turned out in the little ramekins better than the ones in the cups.  I think they are prettier, with the straight sides.  Plus, getting the cake out of the cups was a bugger!  It did not look pretty, I must admit!

So, to make these little cakes, you essentially make a small amount of cake batter.  You place a couple tablespoons of the batter in buttered ramekins/cups, place a halved plum on top (face up) and then sprinkle the top with brown sugar.  Done.  Into the oven they go, and the cake puffs up around the sides of the plum and gets nice and golden on top.

A few thoughts about this recipe:
I think some of the components really depend on the sweetness of the plum.  My plums were pretty sweet on their own, so I would definitely cut back on the amount of brown sugar I sprinkled on top with plums this sweet.  They just don't need it!  Plus, I would cut down on the amount of orange zest a little, too.  It sort of shocks me that the previous statement came out of my brain, as I love orange zest, but it almost overpowered the sweet plum.  I think if the plum had been a little more tart, the zest would have complemented it more, instead of competed a bit.  My plums had a very mild, sweet taste, so I did not want any flavors to compete.

That said, I would definitely make this again.  It was easy and I think it would look beautiful at a dinner party with a dab of whipped cream.  And it would also be delicious with a fresh nectarine!  And I'd like to try this as one big cake instead of mini cakes.  I am sure with the right sized pan, it would work!  I'll have to see if any of my TWD pals made one cake... I am sure someone probably did!

Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes
adapted from Baking with Julia
serves 12

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus melted butter for greasing cups
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar, divided use
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon minced orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk
6 large ripe plums, halved and pitted

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter the insides of 12 8- to 9-ounce custard cups or ramekins, and set them inside a rimmed sheet pan.

Cream the butter, 2 TB of the brown sugar, and the granulated in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment.  Cream for 3 minutes, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then beat again for another 3 minutes, until the mixture is very light in color and the sugar is mostly dissolved.  Add one of the eggs and beat on high speed for about a minute.  Scrape down the bowl and paddle and then add the second egg and beat for 30 seconds.  Add the orange zest and vanilla, and beat on high for about 30 seconds, until both are incorporated.  Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour and baking soda.  Beat for 15 seconds.  Add the buttermilk and mix for 30 seconds.  All of these times are so that the batter is not over-mixed.  Finish any mixing with a rubber spatula.

Drop approximately 2 TB of batter into the bottom of each cup/ramekin.  Place one halved plum, cut side up, on top of the batter, pressing down just a little so it is set.  Sprinkle some of the remaining brown sugar over the tops of each plum.  Place the sheet pan holding the cups/ramekins into the oven and bake for around 25 minutes, until they are golden on top and a cake tester placed in the cake part of the cups comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and let cool in their cups for 8-10 minutes.

Unmold the cakes by running a short knife or icing spatula around the sides and a little under each cake.  Lift the cake out of the cup with the spatula, plum side up, and place on individual dessert plates.  Serve warm, with whipped cream, ice cream, chocolate sauce, or nothing!

Wrap remaining cakes airtight and store at room temperature for one day.
Printable Recipe