Friday, December 30, 2011

Chocolate Class

Mark your calendars!  On February 8, I'll be teaching a class at Whole Foods, all about chocolate desserts. Read on, and sign up before it sells out...

Wednesday, February 8th
Beyond Brownies: A Dessert Workshop for Chocolate Lovers
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Hands-On and Demonstration, $55  REGISTER NOW!

Is your love for all things chocolate bordering on obsession? Then this is the class for you! Explore a wide range of chocolate possibilities, and learn how to transform dessert classics into dark and lovely specialties. We’ll also learn how to whip up a rich chocolate cake batter in minutes—only one bowl and no electricity needed! (After the cake is baked, we’ll pair it with a smooth, intensely chocolate frosting.) Join us for an evening of total indulgence, as we skip dinner altogether and focus on the best part of every meal.

On the Menu: Chocolate Crème Brulee; Double-Chocolate Tiramisu; “Mexican Hot Chocolate” Cookies; One-Bowl Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.
InstructorAaron Hamburger, Dessert Blogger

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Cookies

One of the things I most look forward to every year is making holiday cookies. This year, I went a bit nuts. Among the cookies I worked on were:

Lemon Gingerbread Trees

Raspberry Bars

Chocolate Snowfall Cookies

Mini Tarts with Lemon Curd Filling

Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookies

Lemon Cookie Sandwiches

Sugar Cookies

Thin Mints

And a few other recipes I've been meaning to try.

Yesterday, I got together with my friend and baking-partner-in-crime, the poet Jeanne-Marie Beaumont, and we made four cookies that were new to both of us. All of them were winners. The first one, a Mexican Chocolate Cookie, I'll be blogging about later. It's delicious.

We also made a black and white cookie (pictured above) from the book The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle.

These cookies, cinnamon coffee cookies, had a wonderfully rich coffee flavor. They're like chocolate chip cookies for grown-ups, using chocolate-covered espresso beans in place of chocolate chips. I loved them, and I don't even like to drink coffee.

Finally, these orange cookies from Lidia Bastianich, have been a big hit. They're a refreshingly sunny addition to holiday cookie plates, which tend to be dominated by darker flavors like chocolate or fall spices (nutmeg, ginger, and cloves). The cookie is soft, tender, with a hint of orange flavor but not too sweet. The glaze, a mix of confectioner's sugar and orange, adds a sugary note.

The original version simply covers the cookies with the glaze, but Jeannie and I thought a bit of orange sanding sugar on top was a nice addition, just to let people know what they're getting into before they take a bite.

The recipe follows:

Orange Cookies
Lidia Bastianich of Lidia’s Italy
Makes about 80 cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl, and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions. Add the vanilla, orange juice, lemon juice, and orange zest. Beat to combine.With the mixer off, add the flour mixture and mix just until combined.Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Roll the dough into 4 logs, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 10 to 12 inches long. Chill or freeze the logs, uncovered, until firm enough to cut without losing their shape.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line three half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Cut the logs into 1/2-inch rounds and place on the prepared pans. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden. Cool completely on wire racks.
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice, or as needed
Sift the confectioner's' sugar into a bowl and whisk in the orange juice to make a smooth glaze.
Dip a cookie in the glaze, which should form a thin layer. If necessary, adjust the consistency of the glaze with more juice or confectioners' sugar. Repeat the dipping process, and then let the glazed cookies set on wire racks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Hostess"-style Cupcakes

Inspired by a recent episode of "America's Test Kitchens," I decided to see if I could recreate a Hostess cream-filled chocolate cupcake from scratch.

The process turned out to be fairly labor-intensive. The cupcake itself is nice and straightforward. All ingredients are mixed by hand and then scooped into cupcake tins and baked. Right out of the oven, they were delicious, though I found they lost some of the rich flavor the longer they sat out.

Next, make the filling, a combo of marshmallow fluff, vanilla, butter, and soft gelatin. It's a sticky and messy process.

When I served these, the big question was, "How did you get the filling inside the cupcake? The answer is you cut out a cone from the cupcakes, add filling, and press the cone on top. Don't overfill, however, or when you press the cone on top, the filling comes squirting out!

The top is a simple ganache with some of the reserved filling piped in that telltale squiggle.

All told, the process took me three hours, though not all of it was active time. There was a lot of waiting for cupcakes to cool, filling to set up, etc.

I liked the final cupcake, but not enough to invest the time and labor in them any time soon. If I were to make these again, I might use my standby chocolate cake recipe, which keeps better in my opinion. Also, I might go with a cream-based ganache rather than the butter-based ganache from the recipe.

Chocolate Cream-Filled Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes
To ensure an appropriately thick filling, be sure to use marshmallow creme (such as Fluff or Kraft Jet-Puffed Creme), not marshmallow sauce.
  • 1cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2cup boiling water
  • 1/3cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1tablespoon instant espresso
  • 3/4cup sugar
  • 1/2cup sour cream
  • 1/2cup vegetable oil
  • 2large eggs
  • 1teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3tablespoons water
  • 3/4teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 4tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  •  Pinch salt
  • 1teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4cups marshmallow crème (see note)
  • 1/2cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1. MAKE BATTER Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 12-cup muffin tin. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in bowl. Whisk water, cocoa, chocolate chips, and espresso in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla and mix until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until incorporated. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out with few dry crumbs attached, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool -cupcakes in tin 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.
  • 2. PREPARE FILLING Combine water and gelatin in large bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave until mixture is bubbling around edges and gelatin dissolves, about 30 seconds. Stir in butter, vanilla, and salt until combined. Let mixture cool until just warm to touch, about 5 minutes, then whisk in marshmallow creme until smooth; refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. Transfer 1/3 cup marshmallow mixture to pastry bag fitted with small plain tip; reserve remaining mixture for filling cupcakes.
  • 3. ASSEMBLE CUPCAKES Microwave chocolate and butter in small bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 30 seconds. Cool glaze to room temper-ature, about 10 minutes. Following photos 1 to 3 at left, cut cone from top of each cupcake and fill cupcakes with 1 tablespoon filling each. Replace tops, frost with 2 teaspoons cooled glaze, and let sit 10 minutes. Using pastry bag, pipe curlicues across glazed cupcakes. Serve. (Cupcakes can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Almond Shortbread Wedges

Holiday season is coming, which means it's cookie time!

I get tired, though, of the endless parade of painted sugar cookies dusted with colored sugar, so I'm always on the lookout for something new and different that can still please a crowd.

These shortbread wedges will more than do the trick, and the almond frosting paved with toasted sliced almonds add an extra touch that makes this shortbread transcend your usual Walker's packaged variety.

The recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens and like most shortbread recipes, it calls for a mix of butter, salt, vanilla, and flour. Unlike most shortbread recipes I know, however, it calls for powdered instead of granulated sugar, which I believe gives these cookies a more delicate and tender crumb.

The dough gets mixed and shaped into two 6-inch rounds which are baked at 325 to keep them soft. It also gets cut into wedges twice, once just before baking, and again just after.

After the wedges are cooled, they are frosted with an almond butter frosting, that's simply a mixture of more powdered sugar, plus vanilla, almond extract, and enough milk to make the frosting spreadable. It's delicious.

Toast about a cup of sliced almonds and then press them into the frosting. You can press them down like your making a stone pathway, or just push in the tips so that the edges are standing on end, which creates a dramatic 3-D effect.

Store at room temp for 3 days or freeze unfrosted cookies for 3 months.

Yield:  20 cookies

Almond Shortbread Wedges
  • 3/4
    cup butter, softened
  • 1
    cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4
    teaspoon salt
  • 2
    teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 3/4
    cups all-purpose flour
  • 1
    recipe Almond-Butter Frosting (see recipe below)
  • 1 1/4cups sliced almonds, toasted