Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Almond Honey Caramel Chews

These candies might just be the best thing to ever come out of my kitchen. Better than the sugar almonds. Better than any cookie I've ever made. Heck, better than anything to come off of my grill.

The flavor and texture is incredible. A little crunchy when you first bite into them that dissolves into a wonderful caramel and almond chewy candy with a hint of honey. These are perfect for a party, be it a Super Bowl party or just having friends over.

These are not hard to make, they just take time. The cooking process is slow so there is no worrying about the candy heating or cooling too fast.

Almond Honey Caramel Chews
from page 193 of the The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelleby Kate Zuckerman

Makes about 50 candy pieces

14 oz. (about 4 cups) sliced, blanched almonds
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 sticks (16 Tbls.) butter
3/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbls. light corn syrup

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. They are done when their color is brown and there is a noticeable nutty smell. Take out of the oven and place in a bowl.

Prepare a 12x8 inch pan (or a pan with a similar area) by greasing the pan and placing parchment or aluminum foil on the bottom.

In a heavy bottomed pan with a candy thermometer attached, combine all the ingredients but the almonds and heat over medium-high heat. Make sure the pan can hold four or five times the initial ingredients. I used a 4 qt. pan and it nearly overflowed when it reached the boiling point. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once the color changes to a light golden brown, reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until the temperature reaches 260° F, stirring about every two minutes. Once it reaches 260° F, remove the pan from the heat.

Fold in the almonds. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan. Bake the candy for 10-12 minutes. It is done when air bubbles appear all over the candy. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for at least 4 hours.

Carefully cut the cooled candy into desired shapes.

Also appearing at Sugar Savvy.

A real treat, Kate Zuckerman found my site and left suggestions for variations of these candies! Check out her comment in the comment section and her wonderful site PastryChat. She mentions my attempt at her recipe here. Very cool!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Changes over at Just Baking

As of this past weekend, I have taken over editorial duties at Just Baking. I'm looking forward to the task ahead. That said, things shouldn't change much here or there. So c'mon by and check things out!

Granola Grabbers

I was looking for a cookie I could bake for a Super Bowl party. I wanted something that was hearty and could hold it's own with the various dips, hors d'œuvres, and brownies. These cookies are perfect. Filled with almonds, peanuts, coconut, and raisins, there's a little something for everyone here.

These are also great as a midnight snack. The cookies are crunchy and chewy at the same time, a combination that just begs to be paired with milk.

Granola Grabbers
from page 82 of the Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes about 40 cookies

3 cups granola (no fruit)
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup salted peanuts
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup wheat germ
1 3/4 sticks (14 Tbls.) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 375° F and prepare 2 baking sheets.

Combine the granola, raisins, peanuts, almonds, coconut, and wheat germ in a bowl and mix well. Set aside for later.

In a mixer beat the butter for 2 minutes at a medium speed. Add the brown sugar and the granulated sugar and cream for 3 minutes or so. Add the salt and the egg and mix thoroughly. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour and once it is just mixed, add the granola mixture. Stop the mixer once all the granola, nuts, and fruit are just combined. You do not want to over beat this batter. Use a spatula to incorporate any remaining dry ingredients.

Take a heaping tablespoon of the dough and gently pack. Place each cookie about 1 1/2 inch from each other though these won't spread a lot. Flatten them down a tiny bit using your fingertips.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. About halfway through, rotate the pans 180° and switch the pans on the racks. The cookies are done when they are a golden brown but not hard. Remove from the oven, let cool in the pan for a minute or two, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Also appearing at Just Baking and featured on the Well Fed Network.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Bread pudding, in some form or another, has probably been around as long as man has been baking bread. Thought to be first made by thrifty cooks as a way to use stale bread, bread pudding may have started from simple and plain roots but over time it has developed into the decadent dessert we know today.

Early recipes often were little more than bread soaked in water or milk and then sweetened and then baked/steamed. As time went on and cooking techniques evolved, ingredients became more readily available, and recipes became more sophisticated, things like butter, cream, eggs, fruit, liquors, etc were added for flavorings. Today's recipes have come a long way from the days of hollowed out bread loaves filled with milk and spices.

Popular in England and the southern United States, it is not uncommon to find bread pudding on a menu as an alternative to chocolate and/or fruit desserts.

I found the recipe below while searching for a dessert for a meal I made last weekend. This slightly sweet bread pudding with the flavors of bourbon and vanilla was the perfect end to a meal of beef tenderloin, pan-seared scallops with pancetta and pomegranate seeds, and grilled asparagus.

Bourbon Bread Pudding
from page 407 of the Baking: From My Home to Yoursby Dorie Greenspan

Makes about 8 servings

8 oz. baguette or egg-based bread, preferably stale
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbls. bourbon
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. pure almond extract

Boil a pot of water and turn off the heat once it starts boiling. While the water is coming to a boil, cube the bread into 1-inch pieces. If the bread is not stale, spread it in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 350° F oven for 10 minutes. Put the stale bread cubes in a glass or ceramic 9-by-5 inch loaf pan.

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the milk and cream just to the point where they start boiling and then turn the heat off. While they are boiling, mix the eggs, yolks, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Once the milk and cream mixture is ready, start adding it a little at a time while whisking. This will temper the eggs; add the milk and cream too fast and the eggs could curdle. It is important to keep whisking while slowly adding the remaining milk. Now add in the bourbon, vanilla, and almond extract. If you are a fan of Justin Wilson and are so inclined, go ahead and check the bourbon to be sure it's fine. Once blended, gently tap the bowl on the counter to remove any air bubbles and then pour the custard mixture over the bread. Using the back of a spoon, gently press the bread cubes down in the pan, allowing the custard to completely cover the cubes. Cover with some wax paper and let the bread soak for about an hour, making sure to press the bread down occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place a couple of paper towels in a roasting pan large enough to hold the loaf pan. Remove the wax paper and cover the loaf pan with aluminum foil. Poke a couple of holes in foil. Put the pan of bread pudding in the roasting pan and place in the center rack of the oven. Add the water you boiled previously until it comes halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake for 30 minutes and then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. The pudding is done when it is puffed up, golden, and a cake tester or similar item can be inserted deeply into the middle and be removed cleanly. Remove from the water bath and let it cool on a rack. Serve warm or at least at room temperature. Store leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator for a day. Bring back to room temperature to serve.

The whip cream in the picture was made from whipping a cup of cold heavy whipping cream by hand and when peaks form, add about 3 Tbls. powdered sugar and 2 tsp. of the bourbon. It is slightly sweet but highlights the flavor of the bourbon in the pudding.

Also appearing at Just Baking and featured on the Well Fed Network.

Baking: From My Home to Yoursby Dorie Greenspan
Food Timeline-- history notes: puddings

Menu for Hope

I was very happy to come home from work today and find that I've won two prizes in the Menu for Hope raffle! Food bloggers join forces to provide prizes for a raffle. The money from this raffle goes to the United Nations World Food Programme, a fitting charity for foodies. Prizes range from signed books to rare wine to restaurant visits to meeting your favorite chef. Amazing prizes really. This year Menu for Hope raised $60,925.12, up from about $17k last year. Truly generous people out there and I am proud to be one of them.

The prizes I won?

The added bonus? I found these sites through Menu for Hope. Both are wonderfully written and I couldn't be happier to have these two blogs on my blogroll.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pistachio & Apricot Muffins, Again

You can see the other two posts in this "series" here.

When I started the second batch of these muffins, I thought I would do a series. Each month, I would try changing a single ingredient, hopefully different results each time. Maybe good, but more importantly, show how changing one ingredient affects things. My own little kitchen laboratory! These muffins were perfect as a test subject. The first batch was not so good but it had potential. The flavors were there but they were trapped in a cast of flour. I couldn't help thinking, you had these flavors to work with and yet this is the recipe you published?

Last time, I sweetened the muffins with honey instead of sugar. This month the plan was to just reduce the flour. But I stopped to think about all the other things I want to do and I asked myself, do I want to make a batch of these muffins every month?

No, I do not.

So my plan changed. I did more than just reduce the flour. I added baking powder to provide more lift. I don't think the self-rising flour was doing a good job on its own. A couple people who tried the previous batch of muffins said they couldn't really taste the pistachios. Well, the honey was partly to blame for that but still I ground some pistachios and added that to the flour so there is a slight hint of pistachio throughout without turning these into mini-nutbreads. I kept the brandy in and it was much easier making the apricot puree this way. The glaze adds some shine and a touch of sweetness.

OK, this time I think I've got it. I like how these turned out. Still not light as air but definitely not the hard flour biscuits they were before. You can taste the pistachio throughout and it was the apricot supplying the sweetness this time. The chopped pistachios gave it a little tooth also. This is a good recipe to end this "series" on.

Pistachio & Apricot Muffins
even more remotely based on the Pistachio & Apricot recipe on page 274 of the 500 Cupcakes: The Only Cupcake Compendium You'll Ever Need by Fergal Connolly.

Makes 12 regular sized muffins

1 1/3 cups (8 oz) + enough for decorating dried apricots
4 tbsp. brandy
3 cups (12 3/4 oz) self-rising flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) + 1 oz. + enough for decorating shelled pistachios
3 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. water

Give the apricots a rough chop and soak them in the brandy for about a hour. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Using a food processor, grind the 1 oz. of pistachios into a meal, as fine as you can get it. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the ground pistachios, flour, and baking powder together. Place the apricots and the brandy in a food processor and puree them until smooth. In another bowl, beat the eggs slightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar, buttermilk, and the apricots and mix them together. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. Combine all the ingredients into the bowl with the flour and butter and stir until everything is just combined. Spoon the mixture evenly into baking cups. I use a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop to measure and place the batter in the cups. Decorate with a bit of apricot and some pistachios. Bake for 25 minutes, checking after about 20 minutes. These are done when a cake tester or toothpick comes out cleanly. Let sit in the pan for 5 minutes and then cool on a wire rack. While they are cooling, mix the honey and water and warm a bit to make it easier to combine. Brush a light coating of the glaze onto the muffins.

OK, all said and done, if I do make these again I would probably swap out the buttermilk for a full cup of whole milk. Oh, and I also started thinking the dryness comes not only from the amount of flour but dried apricots soaking up liquids which hindsight being 20/20, I should have thought of sooner. All right, I'll stop.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

Lorrie and I just returned from spending the weekend at a B&B up in Door County. We love it up there and go back whenever we can. The bed and breakfast is the Inn at Cedar Crossing in Sturgeon Bay. We stayed in the Anniversary Room and it was really nice. The restaurant is excellent and we ate there both nights. I had elk the first night and Filet Mignon the second; Lorrie had chicken risotto the first night and halibut the second.

This capped off our week-long Christmas celebration. We spent time with my family and her family while wildly driving all over eastern Wisconsin. Due to the generosity of our families and Lorrie's and my tendency to go overboard when giving each other gifts, it was a good year for Cookies, Et Cetera. Baking related gifts include a Oberon Design leather journal for my culinary thoughts, a homemade apron with a raven on it, a marble pastry board, a Sil-pin,KitchenAid food grinder attachment,and a Cuisinart stainless steel bowl set.

I also have a whole new slew of cookbooks and kitchen references: a membership to Cook's Illustrated online, The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelleby Kate Zuckerman, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchenby Harold McGee, What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explainedby Robert L. Wolke, Oktoberfest: A Fest Feast : A Book of Traditional Recipes,Baking: From My Home to Yoursby Dorie Greenspan, and Grandmother's Kitchen Wisdom Gold Edition by Dr. Myles H. Bader.

Since the new year is upon us and I'm now more prepared, I thought I'd come up with some resolutions and goals for 2007. Maybe some general things to improve on or specific items I can check off. OK, here it is:
  • Incorporate more whole grains into my baking. I can still make cookies, muffins, and other sweets while using whole grain flour.
  • More work with candy, especially things other than chocolate. I have a little tendency to focus on chocolate and there are so many other things out there to try.
  • More fruit in what I make.
  • More cookies. I think I need to live up to the name a little more.
  • More healthy recipes. At most for every 3 or 4 posts that use a lot of sweet, sugary ingredients or feature an item with a lot of calories, include 1 that doesn't.
  • Take better pictures.
  • Specific things to make: a tart, a fruit pie with a filling not from a can (not apple or cherry), a custard pie (with meringue), ice cream, a pudding (not Jell-O), something using puff pastry, a torte, something using ingredients from a local farmer's market, jam (and use as a filling), and petits fours.
  • Redesign the site. I used the basic template when I started because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do or if I'd be enjoying myself after doing the site a while. Well, I am enjoying it so I want the site to reflect that and me a little more. I will have to put my coding skills to work here.
  • Have fun!