Monday, June 29, 2015

Easy Choco-Peanut Butter Fix

Delicious cookie-baking does not get any easier than this recipe from Everyday Food. Start with simple, delicious ingredients, mix them up, bake them off and done.

These cake-like peanut butter-flavored cookies are loaded, no, overloaded with chocolate chips, which guarantees a pleasing ratio of chocolate to peanut butter in every bite. And because the ingredients can be found or stored in your pantry, you can have cookies whenever you want without a special trip to the grocery store.

Because the ingredients are simple, it's key to use high quality chocolate and the best peanut butter for baking that you can find. In my book, that means Skippy creamy full-fat peanut butter. I read several reviews of this recipe complaining that the cookies lacked flavor or were dry. I'm guessing (based on my experience of baking with other brands of peanut butter, especially the natural, preservative-chemical-free kinds) that those bakers were not using good old Skippy with all those wonderful hydrogenated vegetable oils...

Hey, it's dessert, not health food!

The recipe calls for room temperature butter. I'm often asked, how long do you need to let butter sit out at room temp before it's ready? Do I really have to wait that long when I'm in the mood for homemade cookies?

Here's a trick that I've found works great for achieving room temp butter for cookie baking (and even cake baking). Before measuring out your ingredients, cut the butter into small cubes. Then measure out your ingredients, preheat your oven, get your baking pans ready. In 10 minutes, your butter should be soft enough to work with, and doing all that prep work is a great way to spend that time.

Have fun...

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chunk Cookies
adapted from Everyday Food


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 tsp kosher salt (you can add up to a teaspoon to taste)
1 cup peanut butter (smooth is preferred)
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate bars cut into chunks


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat peanut butter, butter, and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until smooth. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in chocolate chunks. For cakier cookies, chill in the fridge 30 minutes.

2.  Drop dough by heaping tablespoons, 1 inch apart, onto two large baking sheets. Bake until golden, 13 to 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Cake Worth Celebrating

For a while now, I've had my eye on this recipe from Baked: Occasions, a cookbook of recipes from a trendy Red Hook bakery.  Titled "The Ultimate Birthday Cake," this recipe is a serious investment of time and effort:  about 25 ingredients and 12 steps.

The results are worth it. It's a dessert that makes a strong visual impression, especially when you cut into it. The cake has a soft texture and deep vanilla flavor, the frosting is light and sweet, and the sprinkles add a nice crunch.

An article on this cake in Serious Eats recommended spending a little extra on the sprinkles, since you'll be using so many of them. A friend tried making the cake with the cheaper, easier-to-find supermarket kind and found that they melted into the batter, giving it a muddy color and slightly waxen taste and mouthfeel. I ordered a pound of these CK-brand "jimmies" from Amazon, which came out great.

The only problem is might find sprinkles all over your kitchen counters and floors for a while!

Ultimate Birthday Cake From 'Baked Occasions'

YIELD: Makes 1 8-inch 3-layer cake
ACTIVE TIME: 1 hour 30 minutes
TOTAL TIME: several hours


For the Very Vanilla Cake
2 1/2 cups (315 g) cake flour
3/4 cup (90 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans
1/2 cup (100 g) vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup (240 ml) ice-cold water
1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup (190 g) rainbow sprinkles
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the Very Vanilla Frosting
1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (40 g) all-purpose flour
11/2 cups (360 ml) whole milk
1/3 cup (75 ml) heavy cream
12 ounces (3 sticks/340 g) unsalted butter, softened but cool, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla paste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For D├ęcor
1 to 1 1/4 cups (190 to 240 g) rainbow sprinkles


1.  Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325F (165C). Butter three 8-inch (20-cm) round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out the excess flour.

2.  Sift both flours, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl. Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the egg, and beat until just combined.

4.  In a small bowl, whisk together the ice-cold water, milk, and buttermilk.

5.  Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl in three separate additions, alternating with the water mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture; turn the mixer to low when you add the ingredients, then up to medium for a few seconds to incorporate. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds. Remove the bowl from the standing mixer, scatter the sprinkles across the top of the batter, and fold them in with a rubber spatula.

6.  In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar just until soft peaks form; do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula.

7.  Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove from the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

8.  Make the frosting: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened to the consistency of a light pudding, 10 to 15 minutes.

9.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool, at least 7 to 9 minutes (you can speed up the process by pressing bags of frozen berries or corn against the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl). Reduce the speed to low and add the butter a few chunks at a time, every 20 to 30 seconds, while the mixer is constantly stirring; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vanilla paste and extract and mix until combined. If the frosting is too soft, place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it can hold its shape. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is spreadable.

10.  Assemble the cake: Place one cooled cake layer on a cake turntable (or a serving platter if you don’t own a cake turntable).  Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 11/4 cups (215 g) of the frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim it, and frost it as before, then add the third layer (trim the final layer for a completely flat top, or feel free to leave it domed for an old-school appearance). Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and place it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up. (This is known as crumb coating and will help to keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake).

11.  Place the turntable on a parchment-lined baking sheet with raised sides. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Grab a fistful of sprinkles and turn the turntable with your free hand while tossing the sprinkles at the sides of the cake. Using the leftover sprinkles from the parchment (i.e., sprinkles that didn’t stick), continue turning and throwing until the cake (including the top) is covered in sprinkles. Chill the cake for about 5 minutes to set before serving.

12.  This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature (cool and humidity-free) for up to 3 days. If your room is not cool, place the cake in a cake saver and refrigerate for up to 3 days, then let it sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.