Friday, July 29, 2011

Not Quite an Oreo or a Whoopie Pie, but in Between

photo by Anthony Palatta

I've been making an easier version of Martha Stewart chocolate cream sandwich cookies (a.k.a. Oreos) for quite some time now, but I wanted to try the more difficult version, just to compare.

Both cookies are delicious. The easier version results in a denser, darker, crisper cookie, with a stiffer cream filling.  This more labor-intensive version gives you a softer, more cakelike cookie with a runnier filling, almost like a whoopie pie, but slimmer.

The downside of this cookie is that the dough is difficult to handle. It's quite soft and you have to freeze it in order to cut it and transfer it to a baking sheet. By the time you reroll the scraps, you have to put it in the freezer again to work with it.

Also, the cooking time in Martha's cookbook was a bit long, resulting in my first batch of cookies burning on the bottoms.  Then again, chocolate cookies are notoriously difficult, since there's no "golden brown" color at the edges to tip you off that they're done. Also, they often sit for a while on the baking sheet to firm up. You may want to do a practice run with one cookie to see how it responds in your oven.

Anthony thought of tinting the filling different colors, just to make them pretty, as you can see in the picture. But it could be fun to add some extract as well to flavor the filling to match the colors...

Chocolate Wafer Sandwich Cookies
(from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Vanilla Cream Filling (see below)

Mix dry ingredients.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then add egg and vanilla, just to combine.  Next, on low speed, add dry ingredient mixture.

Pour out dough and flatten into two discs.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness, then freeze until very firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350.  Quickly cut out rounds with 2-inch cookie cutter.  (If dough softens too much, put it back in the freezer to chill once more).  Freeze cut cookie dough once more until firm, about 15 minutes.

Bake about 10 minutes, until cookie centers feel firm when lightly pressed.  Transfer to racks to cool.

Fill with Vanilla Cream filling.

Vanilla Cream Filling

1-1/3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Beat all ingredients for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Art of the Sandwich Cookie Returns!

photo by Anthony Palatta

On Thursday, I taught another session of my very first cooking class "The Art of the Sandwich Cookie," at Whole Foods.

On the menu were homemade "oreos," peanut butter sandwich cookies, lemon sandwich cookies, and ice cream sandwiches with oatmeal "scotchies," recipes for all of which are on this blog.

This time around, I pre-made a number of cookies so that there were fewer trays flying in and out of the oven, a nightmare to keep track of.  Also, the more the oven door opens and closes, the more difficult it is to maintain a constant temperature.

Even though it was one of the hottest days of the year, we had fun and the class let their imaginations run wild with the peanut butter cookies, adding jam and chocolate to create tasty variations on a theme.

What I learned from teaching the class is the importance and difficulty of following recipe directions to the letter. How many recipes have I made that didn't come out because I skipped a crucial step or didn't measure an ingredient properly? Like any skill, baking takes practice, focus, and resolve.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Apple Crumble Pie

If you're afraid of pie crust, this is the pie for you. If you're allergic to almonds, this is not the pie for you.

It consists of a crumb crust that's made extra delicious with the addition of ground blanched almonds. You press it into the pie plate, and then freeze until firm. It's a bit tricky to press in--all those crumbs have a tendency to want to go where they want to go rather than where you want them to go.

I used a mix of a whole bunch of apples, including Granny Smith. Bad choice, as the tart Granny Smiths never quite melted into the pie the way say a McIntosh would have. I also might omit the nutmeg next time.

The pie looks gorgeous when out of the oven. It's a bit tricky to slice and looks more like an apple crisp on the plate than apple pie. But it all goes down the same way...

Apple Crumb Pie
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

Almond Crumb Crust
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup plus 2 tbsp blanched almonds finely ground
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp, cut into small pieces

In a large bowl, whisk flour, almonds, sugar, and salt.  In a food processor, cut int the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  In a 9-inch glass pice place, press a little more than 1/2 the crumbs into the bottom up the sides and onto the rim.  Press firmly into edges.  Freeze pie shell until firm, about 15 minutes.

Apple Filling
3 1/2 lbs assorted apples (Cortland, Jonagold, Rome, McIntosh, Empire, Macoun... Granny Smith DO NOT work well for this recipe)
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbsp)
1/3 cups sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350.  Peel, core, and cut apples into 1/4 inch slices.  In a large bowl, toss apples, lemon juice, and spices.

Pour into chilled pie shells, mounding apples slightly in the center.  Dot with butter.  Sprinkle remaining crumbs over apples to cover completely.

Bake until crust is golden and juices begin to bubble, about 1 hour.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mini Blueberry Crisps

Now that summer's here, so is blueberry season.

The fruit guy on my corner is selling two pints for three bucks! You can't beat a deal like that. If I had room in my freezer, I'd freeze a few pints for winter.

There are all kinds of things you can do with blueberries, which don't need a lot of doctoring. This week I kept it simple, and went for mini blueberry crisps.

I preheated the oven to 375.  Next, I filled two ramekins with blueberries (probably about a cup in all).  Then I dumped the blueberries in a shallow bowl and covered them with sugar and cinnamon (about 2 teaspoons each). I sprinkled the blueberries with the juice of half a lemon, mixed, and let the berries macerate.

While waiting on the berries, I made the topping:  1/2 a cup of flour, 1/2 a cup of sugar, and 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, all thrown into a mini-chop. Just to add more flavor, for the sugar, I did half vanilla sugar and half regular. I pulsed the mixture until when I pressed a bit of it in my fingers, it clumped together.

I put the berries in the ramekins and then covered them with equal amounts of topping, pressing down on it. After placing the ramekins on a baking sheet to catch the blueberry overflow, I put the whole thing in the oven for 30 minutes.

Half an hour later, out came these two beautiful mini crisps, the crusts puffed and golden brown, and the rich blueberry lava bursting out of the ramekins and onto the baking sheet. As the dessert cools, the crusts collapse a bit into a dense, crispy cookie that melts into the warm blueberry filling. The perfect compliment? Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.