Archive for December, 2008

Last-Minute Baking Ideas: Cheddar-Chive Bread

Cheddar Chive Bread 3

Cheddar-Chive Bread - perfect for New Year's Eve.

If you’re attending a New Year’s Eve potluck party (and let’s be honest, I think that potlucks are going to be huge in the recession) and you only have a short amount of time to whip something up, might I suggest this herb and cheese bread recipe from Dori Greenspan over at Serious Eats? I brought it to my office holiday party, where I think it went over well—although my coworker made this amazing cranberry and brie dip that just stole the show.

Even so, I really loved this bread. I loved its deep, intense cheese flavor, and the chives upped the savory quotient nicely. The deep, golden brown color of the loaf was just incredible. And it was incredibly easy to put together, making it perfect for weeknight baking.

Dori is right about this recipe—the bread is on the dry side. But it’s not meant to be a moist bread. If I were to serve this again I might serve it with herbed butter or another savory spread, as an appetizer. I think its down-home, crumbly, cheesy style would be a perfect accompaniment to a refined glass of champagne. 

I found that my favorite way to eat it was the day after the holiday party as thick, butter-slathered pieces of toast. The best part is that the chunks of cheese throughout the bread get really brown and sizzling in the toaster—it really is heaven on toast (or, well, as toast).

You can find the full recipe here. Enjoy!

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When Mint Oreos Go To Heaven

Chocolate Mint Cookies

These are mint Oreos that died and went to heaven.

 I have a mint addiction.

Or, to be absolutely clear, I have a chocolate and mint addiction, which I developed after a youthful love affair with Junior Mints. But chocolate and mint is such a special combination that I like to save it for really special times of year: Girl Scout Cookie Season and Christmas. So this Christmas Eve it only seemed appropriate that I should try my hand at a chocolate-mint dessert, given that I wanted to make something for the various Christmas parties we were attending.

I decided to recreate one of the most perfect expressions of the chocolate-mint combo: the mint Oreo. I chose this Epicurious double-chocolate sandwich cookie recipe and added a hint of mint to the white-chocolate filling. The key, I found, was to add enough mint so that it perfumed the filling, but didn’t overwhelm the white chocolate.

The recipe is a little time consuming,but none of it is especially difficult. I decided to follow my own advice and use properly softened butter that I didn’t heat in the microwave. I also creamed the butter and sugar together for a full six minutes. At the end of the creaming stage it was entirely different than what I was used to; the mixture was extremely pale and extremely fluffy, as though it was filled with a spunky soul all its own.

I also took the recipe’s advice and froze the cookies before I baked them, which helped them keep their shape. You’ll see in the “comments” section of the recipe that many people found the dough difficult to work with, but I didn’t think it was all that bad. I let the dough sit out at room temperature for ten minutes before rolling it out, which helped quite a bit. The dough did have a tendency to crack when I first rolled it out, but I patched the cracks together with my fingers. And if the cracks wouldn’t disappear, I simply cut out my cookies around them, with no harm done.

The only problem I had is that the cookies puffed up quite a bit as they baked. I’m not sure if this meant I mishandled the dough, but when I make these again I’m going to score the dough lightly with the tines of a fork and see if that helps.

Appearances aside, these cookies were just lovely. I like to think of them as mint Oreos that died and went to heaven.

Chocolate-Mint Sandwich Cookies Recipe

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Champagne (or, um, “sparkling wine”) Roundup

Strawberry and Champagne - Day 246

What's Christmas without bubbles?

Photo Courtesy of Velo Steve via flickr, under the Creative Commons license.

After work today, I’ll be heading out to pick up some sparking wine for Christmas. I was about to write that I was going to pick up some “Champagne,” but, as any Wayne’s World fan knows, Champagnes only come from the Champagne region of France. Since real Champagne is definitely out of my price range, I plan to buy sparkling white wine, probably from California.

Of course, I won’t be in the market for a really nice bottle, because I intend to use half of it for mimosas on Christmas morning, and the other half for leisurely sipping on Christmas Day. But I thought that some of you were probably in the same boat, so I put together a little roundup of the Web Guide to Champagne Buying.

The New York Times did a tasting of sparking wines all priced at $20 a bottle or under, which I found extremely helpful. Granted, most of their picks hover at the $20 range, which is a bit steep for mimosas, but their best value, Crémant de Limoux blanc de blancs from Domaine J. Laurens, is only $13. Even I can afford that.

For those of you who want to shell out for the real stuff, the Wall Street Journal put together a guide to buying “Prestige” champagnes—i.e., Champagnes that are way, way out my price range. While I don’t think I know anyone who reads this blog who’s in the market for a $150 bottle of wine (not even my parents!), the article has some nice tidbits about the history of Champagne, insight into Champagne prices, and commentary on what one should look for in a good bottle of Champagne.

This Apartment Therapy post from last year has a guide to Champagne buying with recommendations from Craving’s Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng. Among other things, the article suggests to buy Champagne from established wine shops that have the facilities to properly store it. While Cynthia’s picks for 2008 are way out of my price range, her reasons for her picks are interesting and her tasting notes are an interesting read.

The Washington Post
also has a guide to finding good Champagne values.
The piece suggests, among other things, to look for small growers, local importers, and, of course, to ask your local wine store for their recommendations. The Post also did a tasting of different Champagnes, although their cheapest bottle is $38. Well, it’s still fun to read about, right?

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Hanukkah Cupcakes!

hanukkah  cupcakes 3

Hanukkah Cupcakes!

Happy first day of Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends and readers! In honor of the holiday, I made Hanukkah cupcakes. Granted, these aren’t kosher, and I couldn’t figure out a good Hanukkah food tradition that I could transform into a cupcake (although I’m sure someone, somewhere, has made a latke cupcake). So I picked flavors that appear in Jewish baking, apples and honey, and used those as the basis for the cupcakes. If anyone has any better ideas for a Hanukkah cupcake that they’d like me to try, please let me know – we still have seven days left! I’m certainly not an expert on Jewish baking and would love suggestions.

The cake is an apple-cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart. Oddly enough, I had a hard time finding recipes for apple cupcakes, mostly because I think that people associate apples with muffins more than cupcakes (there are a billion recipes for applesauce muffins out there, let me tell you). But I was very happy with this recipe; the flavor of the apples really came through and the spices were well-balanced. I recommend grating the apples with a regular box grater, which is fast and efficient.

The frosting is honey cream-cheese, which I adapted from this Epicurious recipe. I’ve become such a fan of cream-cheese frostings lately; they marry well with a variety of cakes, and I love how the tangy flavor of the cream cheese compliments the sweetness of the sugar. If anything, I wish that I had been able to taste the honey a bit more in the frosting, but it’s difficult to incorporate honey into a frosting without it becoming too runny. I think my perfect honey frosting is still a work in progress.

Happy holidays everyone!

hanukkah cupcakes 1

Happy Hanukkah!

Apple Cupcakes
By Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
Makes 2 Dozen
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups coarsely shredded apples, such as Macintosh (about 1 3/4 pounds)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; mix in apples. Add flour mixture; mix, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until just combined.

Divide batter among lined cups, filling halfway; bake until tops are springy to the touch, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove cupcakes from tins; transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Honey Cream-Cheese Frosting
Adapted from this Epicurious recipe.

Ingredients:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup honey

Beat cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla in large bowl until fluffy. Add honey and beat until smooth. If frosting is very soft, chill until firm enough to spread.

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Top Chef: They Almost Ruin Christmas

martha-padma

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!! Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

Start of show, shots of NYC, shots of Chez Top Chef in Brooklyn, morning routines, blah blah blah. Does it matter what the chefs say about the last episode, when we know that the Martha is going to be on? I can’t wait. Besides, all we learn in the little episode recap is that Gene almost got kicked off and Ariane feels great about her last win. Next, please!

The chefs walk into the Top Chef kitchen for their Quickfire challenge, where lo and behold, the place is decked out in Christmas gear. I bet this feels really strange because they must have filmed this in, like, July (much like the Thanksgiving episode). Everyone’s wearing short sleeves and light fabrics and looks like they’ve been sweating profusely in the summer heat. Still, in Top Chef land it’s supposedly Christmas, because the Quickfire challenge is to make a one-pot holiday meal.

And then it happens!

There she is!

The Martha.

She’s actually there, in all her preppy yet eerily masculine glory!

I can hardly hear the TV over my shouts of fan-girl joy.

When advising the Chefs on the challenge, Martha quotes Einstein: “Make it simple, but not too simple.” Technically she paraphrases Einstein, because the real quote is: ” Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” But whatever, they’re off, with 45 minutes to make their dishes. During their frantic cooking, the camera shows a long close-up shot of the Glad logo, so I’m calling the producers out for Product Placement Number One.

How The Top Chefs Almost Ruin Christmas

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Christmas on the Cheap: Gingerbread Ornaments

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Gingerbread Ornaments, Pre-String Phase

Wonktheplank insisted on getting a really big Christmas tree this year—so big, in fact, we rearranged our living room furniture just to make room for it. The tree does look lovely, but I was faced with a decorating dilemma.  I needed to supplement the paper decorations I created for last year’s table-top tree, but I had neither the money nor the inclination to go and buy a bunch of ornaments.

So I decided that the most cost-effective, yet festive, way to trim the tree was with gingerbread cookie ornaments. After all, I had almost all the cookie ingredients on hand (I had to replenish our stock of molasses). And all I had to do was pick up some string at the hardware store for hanging the ornaments.

Ornament on Tree 4

A finished ornament. I really got into stripes this year.

I used an old-school gingerbread recipe from my old copy of Martha Stewart’s Christmas, which I stole from home a few years back. While the recipe doesn’t call for chilling the dough, I ended up in a time crunch and stuck it in the fridge overnight. Be warned—if you do chill the dough you have to let it sit out at room temperature for a long, long time before you can roll it out. I let the dough sit out for half and hour and it was still like rolling out a hockey puck.

I was worried that the cookies wouldn’t rise because of the long chilling time and because this recipe uses baking soda as a leavener. You’re supposed to bake cookies and cakes with baking soda right after mixing, because the baking soda is activated when it comes into contact with liquid. But in spite of my worries, these baked up just fine. In fact, I rolled out my first batch too thick and I had the opposite problem—the cookies rose so much that their surfaces split open.

While I thought that, all-in-all, the cookies made fine ornaments, I wouldn’t make them for eating. I can’t tell if the chilling time was the main culprit, but I thought these cookies were flavorless (although adding 1/2 a teaspoon of salt to the dough could help bring out the flavor of the molasses and the spices). But I’d much rather make Mary Todd Lincoln’s Gingerbread Cookies, which tasted wonderful and rolled out like a dream.

I decorated the cookies with white and green royal icing (I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s ratio of one egg white to 1 1/3 cup powdered sugar). Also, I misread the recipe and poked holes in the ornaments before baking, which closed shut as the cookies rose. You’re actually supposed to poke holes through the ornaments right after the cookies come out of the oven. Still, I had no problem re-poking the holes with a large needle, even several days after I made the cookies. The dough is strong without being brittle, making this recipe ideal for ornament making.

Ornament on Tree

More stripes! I wish I could figure out how to make cleaner ends to my stripes.

Gingerbread Ornament Recipe

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The Secrets of Baking With Butter

martha-washington-cookies

Martha Washington's Shrewsbury Cakes are an old-fashioned butter cookie.

For all of you home bakers out there who soften your butter in the microwave (a sin which I am completely guilty of) take warning: your butter will never be the same! This New York Times article, which came out today, is all about butter. Not only did the Times staff taste-test butters, but reporter Julia Moskin gives you the scoop about how mistreating your butter can affect your baked goods.

After reading this article, I totally want to go back and re-bake all my baked goods that didn’t turn out so well (like the last time I made chocolate cupcakes, which came out too dry), and make them again with properly softened butter. Apparently you want your butter to be at 65 degrees, which is warm enough to spread, but not warm enough to melt. Also, you’ll have better results if you keep your butter-based dough extremely cold before baking.

If you’re in the mood for some additional Christmas baking, the recipies in the article look rather tempting. If I hadn’t just baked so many gingerbread ornaments this weekend (which hopefully I’ll update you on tomorrow), I would probably be baking these Orange Butter Cookies tonight.

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